Clemson's McElrathbey raises young brother
POSTED: 9:24 p.m. EDT, September 5, 2006
Adjust font size:
CLEMSON, South Carolina (AP) -- The alarm sounds at 6:15 a.m. and Clemson freshman Ray Ray McElrathbey starts a routine like few others in college football.
Along with classes, film work, defensive back meetings and football practice, McElrathbey sees that his 11-year-old brother, Fahmarr, is dressed and fed, finishes his homework and makes it to middle school on time.
McElrathbey, 19, has temporary custody of his brother because of his mother's continuing drug problems and his father's gambling addiction. The two brothers have shared experiences in foster homes and now share an apartment by the campus.
They live solely off McElrathbey's scholarship while Clemson's athletic department tries to get a waiver from the NCAA that might let them accept donations without jeopardizing McElrathbey's football eligibility.
McElrathbey sought custody because he was tired of worrying what might happen to Fahmarr living with their mother in Atlanta, Georgia.
"I wasn't going to let him go back to a foster home, back to the system," McElrathbey says.
The transition from football player to caregiver is one McElrathbey has cherished since Fahmarr's arrival in June.
"As a brother, it was still me first. As a parent, it's him first," McElrathbey says. "Before I do anything for me, got to do stuff for him."
The elder McElrathbey sounds like a father discussing the struggles of managing a sixth-grader. It often takes two or three shouts before Fahmarr rises and puts on his clothes. McElrathbey signs off on his brother's homework, meets with guidance counselors and tries to keep more fruit around the house.
McElrathbey has no car, so a teammate or friend gives Fahmarr a ride to R.C. Edwards Middle School.
Fahmarr returns to Clemson in the afternoons, often starting his homework at Vickery Hall, Clemson's athletic academic center, or a football coach's office while his older brother works out with the team.
After Tuesday's practice, Fahmarr was in his brother's orange No. 9 jersey throwing the ball to McElrathbey while teammates walked by saying hello or joking with him.
"It's fun living with my brother because we like the same things," Fahmarr said.
After practice, the pair return home. There's dinner, school work and some brotherly time before Fahmarr is asleep and McElrathbey catches up on his assignments, school and football. A big night of fun might be a movie with a teammate or friend.
McElrathbey doesn't mind sacrificing the kind of college life he hears about from teammates.
"My pastor told me it's the Lord wanting to slow me down. I'll take it as that," he said.
McElrathbey has seven brothers and sisters. Because of his mother's addiction, her children have been separated, some ending in foster care as she went to rehab, McElrathbey said.
McElrathbey's mother copes well without the stress of her large family, her son says. Other times she has vowed to get clean and go through rehab, but once she was again raising her children, her problems would resurface, McElrathbey said.
McElrathbey used sports to keep himself out of trouble, often living with coaches or other mentors who kept him in school and focused on the future.
When McElrathbey came to Clemson, he couldn't help but fret over Fahmarr. "You didn't see him at Christmas dinner in Orlando crying in my arms because of his brother," Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said.
While many in the athletic department have asked to help the McElrathbeys, Clemson must be careful the help is not seen as extra benefits in violation of NCAA rules. Clemson and the ACC have worked on a waiver request to the NCAA, athletic spokesman Tim Bourret said.
Koenning doesn't understand why his wife or other members of Clemson's coaching family can't assist with a trip to the grocery store or school. "I can take two boxes of toys out of my basement and give them to Goodwill, but I can't give them to Ray Ray?"
McElrathbey has no time left for a job, but makes extra spending money washing cars or mowing lawns. He says there is nothing they need he can't afford. "I just had to get rid of the 'great' things, what I call the material things," McElrathbey said.
The NCAA says it's working with Clemson and the ACC on the best solution to assist the McElrathbeys. While the rules prohibit most benefits beyond what comes with the scholarship, "individual circumstances can and are taken into consideration in unusual situations," the NCAA said in a statement.
Clemson safety Michael Hamlin often drives McElrathbey and Fahmarr, and takes Fahmarr for a bite when his older brother's tied up. "He's like a little clown. Everybody likes being around him," Hamlin said.
McElrathbey is glad for the help he gets. He's more happy knowing Fahmarr is safe and sound. The younger McElrathbey told his older brother he is a celebrity on campus now.
Fahmarr was supposed to be in Clemson temporarily. But now McElrathbey expects to maintain custody of his younger brother throughout his teen years. He stays as upbeat as possible and won't dwell on his mother's problems because it doesn't help him or, more importantly, Fahmarr. McElrathbey dreams his mother might one day stay drug free to guide her children, but isn't counting on it.
"You can't get mad at people for being who they are," he said. "You can accept it or you don't, but either way you can't get mad about it because it doesn't help."
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed