SPRING HILL — Brittany Saavedra, a 75-pound starburst of skinny arms, wild blond hair and righteous indignation, stared fiercely. Someone at a recreation center told her she couldn't play football with boys.
"Are you afraid of girls?"
• • •
She never did anything average.
Her family figures she was striving for greatness when the accident happened. She was building a sand tunnel with friends Saturday in a Spring Hill retention pond. The tunnel collapsed on her. Brittany died that evening.
She was 11.
"She would have made it into a four-bedroom condo," her father, Mitchell Saavedra, said of the tunnel. "It wasn't 100 percent. It was 150 percent, whatever she did."
Brittany was always resourceful. She knew how to pull weeds and walk dogs. Once, she grabbed her dad's tools and shop vacuum, lugged them to a neighbor's house and helped the owner repair holes in his wall.
She never took naps. When she had downtime, she reorganized her family's pantry and sorted Tupperware. Her parents got spooked when they found everything spotless.
Brittany crammed for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test like it was the SAT. She earned straight A's at John D. Floyd Elementary, her family said. If she came home with a minus sign on her report card, it was a personal tragedy. She dreamed of being a doctor or a teacher.
She listened to the Beatles, AC/DC and Alice Cooper. She loved watching the Disney Channel and SpongeBob SquarePants. She once became entranced in a marathon of Monk, an obsessive-compulsive detective.
She made friends with all the kids in her neighborhood, even the first-graders who knocked on her door. She was happy as long as she could go outside.
"You want to be friends with Brittany?" said her father. "Do you know how to spell 'play?' "
• • •
Brittany loved the reality show Gene Simmons Family Jewels — she thought the Kiss rocker was a good dad.
She had a special bond with her parents. She'd spend hours cooking with her mother, Jeanette. Sometimes, they'd brush each others' hair. Her dad exposed her to sports without pushing her toward them — she decided that on her own, he said.
She was the youngest of four children in a blended family tight-knit as blood. She loved spending time with her brothers and sister, playing video games and running.
Her brother, Christopher, died in an Ohio car accident a few years ago at age 19. Brittany was devastated. But through the tragedy, she found introspection.
She'd say little prayers to Christopher's picture. She'd look at the stars for comfort.
She began writing journals, staying up late to compose songs, stories and poems. She wrote about neighborhood kids, fish, dolphins, horses. She wrote about her brother.
She asked her dad for a horse to keep in the woods behind their house. She didn't see why neighborhood rules would matter.
• • •
Turns out, some boys were afraid of Brittany.
She recently joined a mostly male flag football team with her brother. She played defensive tackle and center. Nine times out of 10, she nabbed flags. She ran like gangbusters at the boys, who cleared out of her way.
Once, she devised a fake-out play — all the boys ran one way, and Brittany ran the other.
They found her standing in the end zone, victorious.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.