Javier Moreno, the high school wrestler who endured a stint of homelessness until he was swept up in an outpouring of generosity and support from old and new friends, is going to college.
The 19-year-old Richland Northeast High School senior, who was profiled in The State in January, signed a letter of intent with Coker College earlier this week to wrestle at the private Hartsville school.
Thursday – flanked by James and Irene “Carmen” White, the older couple who took him and his brother, Angel, into their home – Moreno participated in a school signing ceremony punctuated by not a few tears.
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“You are sweating,” Carmen White, known as “Grandma Carmen” told him as she wiped his brow and affectionately patted his leg.
Javier smiled, a little overwhelmed by the attention. “This was OK,” he said softly as he looked around at those gathered, including members of his wrestling team.
“This is a really fantastic day for Javier,” said Cat Crumlich, a “wrestling mom” who learned of Javier’s plight when he came to her house several summers ago to hang out with her son, Noah, a fellow wrestler.
“It was a rainy afternoon and you were so happy and sunny,” she recalled.
A week or so later, she learned that the boy with the big smile was living under a bridge just off Two Notch Road.
Javier’s family life was chaotic – his stepfather was arrested in 2010 for trafficking a large amount of cocaine – and he had left his family’s apartment after an argument, vowing never to return. His stepfather pleaded guilty to a lesser drug charge and was sentenced to three years in prison in 2013. He remains behind bars.
The Whites, who had known Javier’s grandparents in the late 1960s during their Army days in Germany, persuaded him to come live with them. They already had opened their home to Javier’s older brother, Angel Crespo.
The Crumlichs became a second family to Javier, and Cat Crumlich was instrumental in steering the teenager through a maze of college applications and financial aid. “Now you are getting a college education will mean the world to you,” she said.
Carmen White said that was what the couple hoped for.
“This was our goal,” she said, recalling how she told Javier, “You come into our home, you quit work and you go to school.” His earlier school record was marred by absences because he worked at a local restaurant, sometimes during school hours. But now he is making B’s.
“We are halfway there,” she said. “We are not all the way there.”
Javier credits his Richland Northeast wrestling coach, Matthew Hall, with inspiring him to succeed at sports and in academics. Before the ceremony, Hall reminded Javier Thursday that he had yet to finish a project for his probability and statistics class.
Javier, the No. 2 wrestler in the state in his weight class, garnered considerable attention from college coaches, including out-of-state officials who watched him wrestle at the state wrestling tournament in late February.
“I visited about four or five colleges,” he said. Coker offered him a good financial package – all but about $7,000 is paid for through scholarships and grants – and he connected with head wrestling coach Cy Wainwright.
“I wrestled for him at a spring break tournament,” said Javier, who said he felt at home on the Coker campus.
The effervescent “Grampa James” White beamed as Javier and his family posed for photographs with principal Sabrina Suber, Crumlich and the wrestling team.
“We are moving on,” he grinned.
About this series
This is one in an occasional series, looking back at stories that made headlines and seeing how things played out.
A college fund account has been set up for Javier Moreno at First Community Bank that will be administered by a family friend David Crumlich and overseen by an attorney. The address is: ATTN: Wilma Moody Jordan, First Community Bank, 4404 Forest Drive, Columbia, SC 29206.