Monday, April 07, 2008

The Millionaires

Saturday we began shooting another story for WEDU's A Gulf Coast Journal. I first typed "we shot another story..." but most of these stories are not one-shoot deals.

This one's about a semi-pro football team called the Sarasota Millionaires. They were playing in St. Petersburg against the St. Pete Sharks. The public athletic complex that hosted the game was only about 30 miles from Raymond James Stadium where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' home games happen but the gulf between semi-pro football and the NFL is immeasurable.

It was immediately obvious, however, long before kickoff. The complex has no locker rooms so players on both teams dressed at their cars in the parking lot.

The Millionaires' nickname is ironic since no one will get rich playing on the team. In fact, the players have to pay a fee to the team!

A husband-and-wife co-own the franchise. Bethsaida Williams runs the team; Calvin Williams is a running back on the team. He's 31, which makes him older than most of his teammates but far from the oldest. Calvin told me one guy is 39 and another is 42.

I teased Calvin about the "C" on his jersey. "Is that for 'co-owner?'"

"No," he said. "It's for 'captain.'"

"That must be one of the perks of ownership," I said. "They have to make you a captain." I was kidding but Calvin was serious in his denial and insisted that he had to earn his playing time.

The team's starting safety, Mo Harris, graduated from Sarasota Riverview High School in 1999. That means I probably saw him play when I reported sports for WFLA in the late 90s. Mo later played college ball at Eastern Michigan but, unlike some of his younger teammates, he's not hanging on to an ever-diminishing dream of playing for pay.

When I asked him why he was out here, he said simply, "I've always played football" while shaking his head as if he didn't quite know himself. But I understood. With any luck so will people who watch the story when it airs. We'll do on camera interviews Wednesday before the team's practice. While the photographer shot the game, I tried shooting still shots. Luckily, the story's success did not hinge on my ability to capture action with my camera.

(The slide show below works in Firefox. It may not show up in Internet Explorer.)

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