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Everybody Wins in Military Buddy Bowl

The Camp Pendleton football tournament assists families of those killed or wounded.

November 27, 2005|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

CAMP PENDLETON — The ball carrier took a handoff and darted toward the line of scrimmage as defensive and offensive players fought for dominance.

Dawn Halfaker, a linebacker, pushed an offensive player out of the way, moved swiftly to her left, and with a twisting dive snatched the runner's flag with her left hand -- there would be no gain on this play.

In the end, Halfaker's team, the Hell's Belles, was beaten by the Bosom Buddies.

But winning or losing wasn't the point Saturday in the 29th annual All Star Buddy Bowl, a flag-football tournament to raise money for military families, particularly families of those killed or wounded in action.

Halfaker, 26, lost her right arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack while serving as a military police officer in Baqubah, Iraq, last year.

She's retired from the Army now -- as a captain -- and working at a Pentagon think tank. She was determined to play in the Buddy Bowl and even recruited her mother as a teammate.

"As a mom of someone who's been injured in Iraq, my heart goes out to all the families," said Connie Halfaker, 49, a physical education teacher in nearby Ramona. "This is a way to show them how much we care."

With corporate support, a silent auction of donated sports memorabilia and other fundraising efforts, All Star Buddy Bowl XXIX organizers hope to raise upward of $100,000 to be distributed to two groups working with injured military personnel and military families.

Twenty-six teams -- 20 male, six female -- answered the opening whistle. In previous years there have been more injured military personnel playing on teams as part of their rehabilitation. "I'm sorry there aren't more of our amputees here," Army Capt. David Rozelle told the crowd before kickoff. "Thanksgiving weekend is a tough time to get them out of the hospital -- they usually want to go home and see their families."

Rozelle lost his right foot when his Humvee hit a land mine in 2003 near Hit. After rehabilitation, he returned to a second tour in Iraq and is the author of "Back in Action." He's a dedicated Buddy Bowl player.

Nico Marcolongo, president of Buddy Bowl Inc., a not-for-profit organization, said he decided to get involved after a 1999 Marine training accident in which a helicopter crashed off San Diego, killing four Marines and a Navy corpsman.

This year he invited Dawn Rowe, whose husband, Marine Capt. Alan Rowe, was killed near the Syrian border in 2004, as a guest of honor. "I said, 'Sure, but I'd rather play on a team,' " said Rowe, who joined the Halfakers on Hell's Belles.

Buddy Bowl teams are composed of military personnel, spouses, friends and people supportive of the cause. One team was made up of NFL alumni.

"It's the right thing to do," said former punter Joe Prokop.

Mark Ring, who sells insurance, has been playing since the 1980s when the game was an informal get-together on the public playing fields in San Diego. Now that Buddy Bowl is both a good workout and good deed, Ring is more enthusiastic than ever.

"Helping military families -- does it get any better than that?" Ring said.

As he tossed the ball in pregame warmups, Navy corpsman Marcos Figueroa was thinking of Iraq. He was a frontline medic with Marines fighting in Fallouja in 2004. "I'm here to support guys who are still there," he said. "And also guys who are gone now."

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