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Sports Beat

Who would have thought that turning a former Miss Universe
runner-up loose on a men's soccer team could lead to trouble?
Laura Church, who flexed fabulously in that bodybuilding
competition, is suing the English club Gillingham, claiming she
was unjustly fired as the team's fitness trainer because players'
wives were jealous of her. She says she was forbidden from
traveling with the team last summer on a trip to France because
of spousal suspicions. (The team says it wanted her to stay home
and tend to two injured players.) Shortly thereafter Church, 40,
sent a text message to defender Chris Hope congratulating him on
his play and signed it with XXX--the sign for kisses. The next
morning Hope's wife, Lisa, called Church, who explained that part
of her job was to "boost his ego." According to Church, Lisa
responded, "He's got a big enough ego," and slammed the phone
down. Lisa reserved her real ire for her husband, though. "We had
a major argument," said Chris, "and I was thrown out of the
marital bedroom." A decision on the case is expected within a

--The head of the Phillie Phanatic, which was pinched from the
Wachovia Center at a charity function on Feb. 6 (SI, Feb. 23),
has been recovered. Bernard Bechtel showed up on Feb. 17 to
collect a $5,000 reward at a Philadelphia radio station lugging
the oversized green noggin, which he claimed he took from two
kids who were fleeing with it from the arena. But within minutes
Bechtel was being led from the building by police, who say he was
the headnapper. The cops had received tips fingering Bechtel, 37,
who also raised the suspicion of deejay Tommy Conwell when he
claimed to be from Conshohocken but repeatedly mispronounced the
name of the town. He faces charges of theft, receiving stolen
property and trespassing.

--Sylvester Stallone is hoping Americans still have a soft spot
for unknown fighters who come out of nowhere for their one big
shot. He's producing The Contender, a TV show that will search
for a real-life Rocky Balboa and which NBC has bought for a a
staggering $2 million per episode. In addition to a nationwide
search for a sweet scientist, the producers will manage the
fighter and are planning to form a boxing federation to rival the
WBO, the WBC and the IBF. "Sly will be the heart and soul of the
show," said producer Mark Burnett, the mastermind behind

--From Rocky to hockey: Making the Cut, a reality show to debut on
CBC in September, will send six winners to a Canadian NHL team's
2005 training camp. As many as 20,000 amateur players are
expected to try out, and finalists will be allocated to six
camps, where they'll play for judges assembled by longtime NHL
scout Jack Birch.... The Lords of Dogtown, a fictionalized
version of Stacy Peralta's cult classic 2001 skateboarding
documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, begins filming next month.
Peralta wrote the film, which will star Heath Ledger (A Knight's

COLOR PHOTO: JONATHAN DANIEL (PAYTON) PICTURE THIS Jarrett Payton had Sweetness on his mind at the NFL combine in Indianapolis on Sunday (page 60). After working out, the former Miami running back unfurled a jersey that had belonged to his late father, Bears running back Walter Payton. Jarrett, who may go late in the draft, carries the jersey--which Walter wore in his final game, a playoff loss to the Redskins in 1987-- everywhere he goes.




The father of a basketball player at Colorado Springs' St. Mary's
High was cited for misdemeanor assault after allegedly biting two
referees in a postgame fracas.


Mavericks assistant, after being hired to coach the Chinese
Olympic basketball team: "Pick-and-roll is really pick-and-roll
in any language."