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Terry Ramsey walked into a nearly empty room in an Ohio child services center. His mother -- and a child welfare supervisor -- was there waiting for him. Terry only saw his mother, who struggled with alcoholism, occasionally.
Terry, just 12 at the time, walked into his visitation wearing a smile and a bruise.
"In my second foster home, the parents used to beat me," Terry says now. "I walked in and had a black eye. I talked to [the child welfare supervisor] and talked to the police, and they took me to a different home. They didn't want me being there and said I was too young and shouldn't have to experience it."
|Terry Ramsey is a Louisville-bound football recruit, but he's overcome countless obstacles to get there.|
His life littered with similar experiences, Terry reflects on his odyssey daily. It haunts him and inspires him, and it makes his triumph -- as a three-star Class of 2014 prospect committed to Louisville -- all the sweeter.
Terry and his five siblings entered foster care as children. Over Terry's seven years there, he lived in five separate homes. On average, more than half of all foster children move three times per year, according to Linzy Munger, an associate director at A Family For Every Child, which works on placing children with adoptive parents.
As a young child, Terry watched as the police were routinely called to his house, where his mother and stepfather would be fighting. He saw his mother get beaten by his stepfather.
"I'd tell my brothers and sisters everything would be all right," Terry said, "but I was young."
Foster care provided little relief for Terry, who at one point returned home to his mother before her relapse. His second foster parents abused him. His third foster home didn't want him; they wanted only his youngest brother. Eventually, his brother moved into another foster home with the rest of his siblings while Terry was left behind.
So Terry struggled in school. He failed nearly every class the first half of sixth grade. Counselors hoped to help but Terry was guarded. He didn't like talking about his mother or the abuse.
It's a story all too familiar to Munger, whose organization specializes in working with older children who are traditionally much more difficult to find permanent homes for. She sends a list of statistics and warns the numbers for someone in Terry's shoes are low. They are startling. Only 10 percent of children age 10 or older will get adopted. Terry faced bigger obstacles, though.
"Boys are typically harder to place. You add that he's a teenage male and that is already two strikes against him," Munger says. "He's a minority -- that's three strikes."
A few years earlier, Christa Pridgen came across a boy's case file. A social worker for 13 years, it was like any other file she dealt with. She knows the struggle of finding adoptive parents for adolescents. Terry, by now 14, was another child she was looking to place in a permanent home.
As Terry's case worker, Christa got to know him well. She thought he was a "phenomenal kid" who deserved a committed family. She didn't know why some families would only show mild interest in Terry. Then, within six months of being assigned to his case, Christa found the perfect adoptive parent.
It would be her.
"It took some talking to with management, but what was unique was it's an older child who didn't have a family who wanted that child. It was one of the few opportunities to be adopted," said Chris.
Road blocks persisted, though. She was removed from Terry's case with no guarantee the Pridgens, who had never previously adopted, would get him. And she still had to convince her husband, Larry, that Terry would fit in with their teenage son and young child.
|The Pridgens have provided the family support Terry Ramsey needed to excel.|
But when he finally talked to Terry, they clicked. Larry saw a reflection of himself.
Larry didn't have a relationship with his parents, either. His mother had him at 15. He hardly knew his father, who died when Larry was in high school. He lived with his grandparents as his mother struggled with drug addiction for more than 20 years. He talks with his mother weekly but struggles to form a bond as emotions are still raw more than 30 years later.
"I wanted my mom and my family -- my grandparents did a wonderful job -- but as a kid you still don't want to see that, your mom high in the streets," Larry said. "When it came to Terry, there's a greater reward in helping someone else's life."
They finally got the chance when Terry entered high school.
It was his freshman year and Christmas was approaching. Still mired in the foster care system, his former case worker came to pick him up from school to go eat.
Christa was letting him know the family was adopting him and it would become official in January.
"My Christmas present was she got to adopt me," Terry said. "That's what it felt like.
"Now my life is pretty good. I love them like I would love my actual parents."
Terry turns 18 on Aug. 31. If the Pridgens did not adopt Terry, he would have likely aged out of the foster care system. Numbers provided by A Family For Every Child show that 27 percent of males are incarcerated within the first 18 months of aging out. During that same span, 50 percent are unemployed, only 37 percent finish high school and 67 percent are likely to be on food stamps.
"He's the perfect example of a child with many strikes against him," Munger said. "By all statistics, he should have been in prison or homeless. Now he's playing football on a full-ride scholarship."
Eggs are Terry's thing. He's not Chef Gordon Ramsay, but it is the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Terry's specialty. Every Sunday, Terry gets out of bed, cracks nine eggs into a sizzling pan -- "with a lot of cheese" -- and serves breakfast.
Larry Pridgen does not believe in raising a son that cannot cook or clean.
"He's been adopted by a great family," said Lance Schneider, Terry's coach at Clayton (Ohio) Northmont. "He has a great support system here, one he probably hasn't had in the past."
The Pridgens are now a family of six. When Terry was adopted, Christa learned she was pregnant with her fourth child. Now 2 years old, Terry has become Marshall's favorite, even teaching him to dribble a basketball.
"T was one of his first words," Christa said. "That's what the baby calls him."
Over the last two-and-a-half years, Larry has watched Terry grow from a boy struggling with trust to someone he recognizes as his own son.
"He was quiet and reserved. You could tell he never had a male role model," Larry said. "At first he was the giant kid, reserved, not real confident -- understandable. I can see him changing into a young man."
It has also been five years since Terry has seen his birth mother. The last memory he has of her was when he was 12, shortly after he greeted her with a black eye. It was another supervised visit, and Terry wasn't told it would be the last time he could see her until minutes before the meeting.
"I didn't start crying," Terry said, "until I saw my mom."
Terry and the Pridgens are trying to locate his mother but have not had much luck. He has a message for her, though.
"I'd tell her I love her and am doing good things and trying to be a better person. I think she'd love it," Terry said. "It was her dream to have me go to college."
So Terry will be playing for his mom when he gets to Louisville. But when he joins the Cardinals in the fall of 2014, her name alone won't be on the back of his jersey. She will share it with Larry and Christa. When Terry turns 18, he will apply to the courts to change his name to Terry Ramsey-Pridgen.
"It's an honor to have his last name," Terry said. "He loves me like his own son."