A week after Steinbrenner High's club rush in late September, a 15-year-old named Calvin McClarin climbed into the back seat of my car. ∂ He was tall, with soft dark eyes and deep dimples that made an appearance at the hint of a smile, which there were not too many of. Only a few minutes into the drive, I also noticed he was unnervingly quiet and avoiding eye contact. ∂ We were carpooling for the Sports Broadcasting Club, a routine after-school activity. Calvin had signed up to help cover the varsity football game at Sickles that day. But for him, it was anything but routine. It was the first few steps toward a new world, a world far away from his, and not just in terms of miles.
Calvin grew up in an apartment complex in Tampa. His parents, never married, lost custody before he could remember anything about living under either of their roofs.
After bouncing around in the foster care system, with only his dad showing up on visitation days, Calvin ended up at age 6 in the foster home of Martha McClarin, who adopted him when he reached sixth grade.
"I had a book about this thick" containing his family records, said 71-year-old McClarin, motioning with her hands about 6 inches apart. "His parents, his grandparents, they all were on drugs."
She had been a foster parent since 1991, with an average number of kids in her house at any one time in the double digits. By the time Calvin arrived at her home in the Briarwood neighborhood of north Tampa, the number of foster kids she cared for simultaneously had been cut to five, after McClarin discovered and reported an incident of sexual abuse by one of the boys upon another.
"I guess he thought I was asleep," she said. "I wasn't. I walked right in and called the child abuse hotline." At the time of the abuse, she had 13 foster kids in the house.
When Calvin came to the McClarin home, a second boy was found to be sexually abusing others.
The victim wasn't Calvin. "Oh no," she said. If anything had been happening to Calvin, "he would come to me. Calvin would always come to me."
The boy was removed soon after the abuse was discovered.
Calvin, in second grade when he arrived at McClarin's house, was held back that year because of poor classroom behavior.
"Everyday I had to come to that school," she said. "He'd take out his shoe string, cut up his shoe string, tear up things in the classroom." A long silence fell on the living room of the McClarin household as she talked. Calvin broke it:
"That was the worst thing ever."
The shock set him straight for a time, he said, and he passed through the rest of elementary school quietly.
McClarin decided to close down her foster care operation in 2010. In order to do so, she would need to adopt the three boys still in her house or move them out. By then, Calvin's younger brother, Nathaniel, had been placed in her care.
"They wanted to stay with me," said McClarin. She double-checked to make certain. " Are you sure? '' she asked them. "Yes ma'am."
Calvin was someone's child for the first time in his memory. In reality, nothing really changed, because it had all become so good.
"We were living with her for a long time, we all fell in love with each other," Calvin said. "She decided to shut down foster care, so it was either us leave, or she adopt us, so she adopted us (Calvin, Nathaniel and a boy named Peter)."
Despite the more stable home situation, Calvin started to fall back off the path. He cut some classes, and hung out with what he described as "the wrong crowd" at Buchanan Middle School. His grades started to slip because he was ignoring more and more of his assignments at home.
On the verge of giving up on school entirely, Calvin found an organization that would change his life.
In eighth grade, he was forced to join Men of Vision, a service club with a mission to help its members succeed in life.
"My cousin Marquavis had joined Men of Vision," said Calvin. "His mom saw that it had helped him a lot, so she made my brother (Nathaniel) and I join it."
Soon after becoming a member of the club, Calvin met Steinbrenner resource teacher Ross Anderson, who is a dual employee of Buchanan and Steinbrenner. Anderson persuaded Calvin to apply to attend high school at Steinbrenner during the county's choice process.
The culture shock was fairly intense.
"I was used to everyone talking slang," said Calvin. "Then I go to Steinbrenner and everyone was talking all proper, it was weird," he said with a laugh. "Most people at Steinbrenner really cared about their education, and where I came from, not too many people really cared."
The new atmosphere turned Calvin's focus more toward schoolwork, he said, but it would be a month later, at the annual club rush in September, that his true transformation would begin.
"David (Garcia, a friend) and I went because we wanted an excuse to get out of class," said Calvin. "Dave was like 'ooooh there's sports broadcasting, I wanna be on TV because I look good.' I said, 'No, David. You're ugly,' so we went up there and we spoke to Mrs. (Gina) Shannon."
Shannon (the mother of this reporter) was the club sponsor, and after watching Calvin and David walk away when she brought up commitments after school, she spoke to Anderson about the possibility of having the two boys ride the bus with the players, but it was vetoed. She was undeterred.
"She called me, and said that she would pick me and David up and take us to games," Calvin said.
The first game they both signed up to cover was varsity football at Sickles. After school, I drove them to my house to prepare for covering the game.
"When we started taking pictures and videoing, David said he did not want to be a part of it anymore," said Calvin. "It wasn't what he thought it was. But I said I wanted to keep doing it, because I actually thought it was pretty interesting."
The pick-ups and drop-offs between Lutz and Briarwood continued until the driving became too time-consuming and impractical. Shannon invited Calvin's mother to visit the house, and after a long conversation, McClarin agreed to allow Calvin to spend some nights at our house. A guest bed was set up in the weight room.
"The rest is history," Calvin said.
Calvin now lives with us more than half the week in the comfortable neighborhood of Carrollwood in our roomy one-story home, covering games for the club whose work can be seen on Bright House Sports Network's website.
"Thank God for your mom," McClarin said. "I thank God and I pray for her every day."
Calvin's last report card came in with all A's and B's, the first time ever.