When his world crumbled, the kid from Oakland kept hope alive
Even by the mean standards of the city game, Leon Powe has had a
hard life. His father left when Leon was two. Five years later
his younger brother, Timothy, found matches in the house where
they lived with their mother, Connie, in Oakland, and
accidentally burned the place down. "That was the beginning,"
says Leon. "Everything had been cool. Then we lost it all." For
the next seven years the family lived in about 30 different
places--dingy apartments, homeless shelters, cheap motels.
Connie made money by collecting things left behind in storage
spaces and hawking them at flea markets. In 1998 the city's
social services department took Leon and Timothy from Connie and
placed them in a foster home. Then this April, Connie died in
her sleep of unknown causes in an Oakland motel room just four
days before Leon, then 17, was to lead Oakland Tech High into
its first Division I state championship game.
For Leon, a wondrously gifted 6'8", 230-pound power forward,
basketball has always been a saving grace. By the time his
mother died, he was one of the most highly recruited players in
the country, drawing interest from Kansas, Maryland, North
Carolina and nearly every other major program. Still, he says,
"I was lost. My mother was the reason I did everything. I wanted
us to get out of the ghetto; I wanted to buy her a house. I was
devastated, but I kept playing because that's what she would
Though obviously distracted and plagued by first-half foul
trouble, Powe had 19 points and 10 rebounds in Oakland Tech's
80-75 loss to L.A.'s Westchester High. Three weeks later, in an
AAU game, he tore his left ACL. "I asked myself, Why is this
happening to me?" he says. His knee surgery went well, though,
and in July, Powe gave an oral commitment to Cal.
Last year Powe averaged 29 points and 15 rebounds, but he is
just as proud of some other numbers. After Powe had a 1.9 GPA as
a freshman, Jonas Zuckerman, his academic adviser, began
tutoring him. Two years later Powe's GPA was 3.2. "I'm so proud
of him," says Bernard Ward, a counselor at the Alameda County
Probation Department who took in Leon after Connie's death.
"He's bounced back from so much, and he's just a kid."
In Ohio a top rusher mixes old-school football with small-town
Jason Bainum is a throwback. This spring he graduated from tiny
Williamsburg (Ohio) High as the leading rusher in state history
with 8,216 yards, but his story is more newsreel than
SportsCenter. Consider Bainum's position: single-wing tailback.
Williamsburg coach Ken Osborne installed the antiquated
single-wing attack, to take advantage of his 6'1", 200-pound
star's myriad skills and to mask the limitations of his
35-player roster. Says Osborne, "He had everything you need."
Not even the coach foresaw the results. Bainum rushed for 1,473
yards and 24 touchdowns as a sophomore. As a junior he ran for
3,043 yards, a state regular-season record. He topped that
during his senior year with 3,386 yards, a record he reached in
11 games. (The old mark was set in 15.) On Sept. 28, 2001,
Bainum broke the state one-game record with 532 yards. Three
weeks later he surpassed the state career-rushing mark of 7,761,
set in 1983 by Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education (and
later Ohio State) tailback Carlos Snow. Bainum also completed
58.5% of his passes for 1,433 career yards and 14 touchdowns.
Bainum is a team player. When TV folks asked to interview him,
he insisted his offensive linemen surround him in the shot.
"I'm just proud I had the chance to play four years of football
with the people I grew up with," he says. His mother, Sue, says
that to understand Jason you'd have to see how he reacted one
evening last fall when a group of awestruck fifth- and
sixth-grade girls heading to a school dance bumped into him as
he walked home from practice. They pleaded with him to come
along. Some 45 minutes later, to squeals of surprise, a freshly
showered Jason arrived at the school and proceeded to dance with
About the only folks not wowed by Bainum were Division I
recruiters. Several schools encouraged him to walk on, but none
offered a scholarship. Bainum's relative lack of speed (Osborne
says he runs the 40 in about 4.6) and small-school pedigree
worked against him. So Bainum will play running back at Division
III Capital University in Columbus. Still, his doubters don't
get him down. "Now," he says, "I can prove them wrong."
The star softball pitcher worked through her grief one inning at
Nearly 10 years ago Michael Brown built a pitcher's mound and a
backstop behind his Poway, Calif., home. He wanted a place to
practice softball with his daughters, Katy and Mandy. When Katy
graduated from Poway High in 1999, Mandy, a freshman at the time,
continued to pitch on the well-lit mound every night, refining
her mechanics and perfecting her changeup while Michael crouched
in a catcher's stance and shouted advice. On days when Mandy
pitched for Poway High, her father would practically burst with
pride. How could he not? After her junior year Mandy, who went
15-4 with a .066 ERA, was named Palomar League Pitcher of the
Year, and four months later she accepted a softball scholarship
from Southern Utah.
As she entered her final semester at Poway, Mandy was poised to
have an outstanding season. Michael was ready to share it with
her. "My dad was so excited," she says. "He really wanted us to
do well." But last Feb. 23, Michael, 52, died suddenly at home of
a heart attack.
Grief-stricken, Mandy considered quitting softball. "I thought it
would be wrong to go on and have fun," she says. But staying at
home wasn't helping her either. So, in March, she decided to
rejoin the Poway Titans.
At first she was emotionally wrought, and her pitching was less
than stellar. She also felt out of sync with her teammates: "I
didn't feel like I belonged," she recalls. As the days passed,
though, the awkwardness faded and the feeling of camaraderie
returned. "She found a bit of sanctuary with the team," says
Mandy's mother, B.J.
Gradually Mandy got her groove back and soon had a streak of 120
straight innings without allowing an earned run. In June, Poway
won the regional title in softball for the first time, with Brown
striking out 10 and hitting a bases-loaded triple to win the
While Brown, 18, is enduring freshman biology at Southern Utah
and preparing for her first college season, the backyard
pitcher's mound sits idle. There are no plans to get rid of it,
though; it's sacred ground. "Mandy and her dad would be out
there at 10 at night--misty, foggy, no matter what kind of
weather--throwing the ball," remembers B.J. "It was a really
nice time for them." --Kristin Green Morse
Living by the sword, this New Yorker has traveled far
It was the laughter that did it. Shortly after Kamara James took
up fencing, she overheard some fellow novices say that no
American had ever won an Olympic gold medal in the sport. Though
just a sixth-grader, Kamara promptly predicted that she would be
the first. Naturally, the others laughed at her. "That's
basically why I fence," James says, laughing at the memory
herself. "I've made it a point to prove them wrong."
That determination has helped James, 17, establish herself among
the world's best fencers. She is the top-ranked American woman
under 19 and the second-ranked senior American woman in epee.
Last January she finished fifth at the Junior World Cup in
Budapest. In August the 5'7", 140-pound James placed 40th in
epee at the senior world championships in Lisbon, a respectable
showing because epee, with long, strategic bouts, favors more
experienced competitors. "I definitely see Kamara as a future
Olympic medalist," says Peter Westbrook, whose sabre bronze in
the 1984 Games is the last medal earned by a U.S. fencer.
The sword has already taken her far. In 1994 James's family
moved from Kingston, Jamaica, to a section of Jamaica, Queens,
where the sound of gunshots was not uncommon. James found
fencing about two years later when her teacher at P.S. 3, Andrea
Schwartz, mentioned a program, run by her acquaintance
Westbrook, that uses fencing to help inner-city kids. Not only
does the Peter Westbrook Foundation churn out quality fencers,
including three members of the last U.S. Olympic team, it also
stresses education and provides minority role models, such as
Westbrook himself, who grew up in the Newark projects. James, a
gifted runner and dancer, showed up at Westbrook's gym the next
weekend and quickly proved herself a natural fencer. "It just
changed my whole life," she says.
The foundation guided James toward a scholarship at The Dwight
School on New York's Upper West Side. Fencing no doubt also
helped her find a spot in Princeton's class of '06, though not
as much as her straight-A average and 1,510 SATs. James is
undecided about fencing for the Tigers but remains focused on
the Olympics. Her work ethic, says Westbrook, is "almost
maniacal--in a good way." "I'm all about the medal," says James.
"It will probably take 10 or 15 years, but I'll chase it for as
long as it takes." --P.M.
Can a high jumper be called disabled when he has taken on all
comers and won?
Bryan Hoddle couldn't believe his eyes. In August 2001, Hoddle--a
coach of world-class disabled athletes--was announcing the action
at a paralympic track meet in Chula Vista, Calif. At the high
jump he saw a tall, blond kid who had a prosthetic left leg from
the knee down. Hoddle watched as the bar kept going up and up. He
grabbed a wireless mike so he could keep announcing events as he
got a closer look. "People were gathering around him as he went
higher, and it didn't even faze him," Hoddle says. "He was just
so focused. When the pressure's really on, the cream rises. Well,
That afternoon Jeff Skiba, of Issaquah, Wash., tied the
paralympic world record of 6'5 1/2". For him, the height was
nothing extraordinary. Though born without a fibula in his left
leg, which was amputated below the knee just before his first
birthday, he has competed successfully in several sports with
able-bodied people. "I don't think of myself as disabled," the
6'3 1/2", 162-pound Skiba says. "Things are a bit different for
me, but I've gotten used to it."
Playing jayvee basketball at Skyline High, he discovered that he
could jump higher than his teammates and even throw down a
reverse dunk on an alley-oop. It seemed only natural to go out
for the high jump. In May the 18-year-old Skiba entered the 3A
state track meet as the top seed. "I felt it was mine to lose,"
he says. He didn't: He cleared 6'10" to beat the runner-up by
four inches. In July, Skiba won a gold medal at the Paralympic
World Championships in Lille, France, clearing a world record
2.09 meters (6'10 1/4"). "Proving I could beat people with two
legs at the state meet was a lot of fun," he says. "But winning
gold in front of the whole world was a great experience as well."
Skiba has set his sights still higher. He will train with Hoddle
in Olympia, Wash., while attending South Puget Sound Community
College. He intends to be the first amputee to clear seven feet,
and eventually to soar 7'4 1/2", the height needed to qualify
for the 2004 U.S. Olympic trials. Hoddle believes both goals are
within reach. Says the coach, "It's a little scary what this guy
can do." --P.M.
When nothing else could stop the tears, she found comfort with
Though she was an elite, multisport athlete in college, with
many highlights in her career, Cathy Poor chooses an
early-season soccer game as her most memorable moment. It was
Sept. 15, 2001, and Poor thought it was too soon after the
tragedy for her Amherst team to be playing. "I couldn't imagine
stepping on the field and being aggressive against anyone at
that moment," says Poor.
After a moving pregame ceremony, Poor took the field against
Bates College with tears streaming down her cheeks and with red,
white and blue electrical tape wrapped around her socks. Then
the whistle blew, and everything changed. "We just flowed
effortlessly," Poor says of the Amherst squad, which won that
day 2-0. "It was like everyone was supporting each other
perfectly. I stepped off the field stronger than when I had
stepped on, more ready to face what we had to face."
Defeating adversity is nothing new for Poor, 23. During her
junior year at Deerfield (Mass.) Academy, after months of
constant sadness and uncontrollable crying, her condition was
diagnosed as depression. With the help of medication she has
overcome the illness's debilitating symptoms and the feeling of
shame that often accompanies depression. "It was a great
struggle," says Poor. "Admitting that I needed some outside help
in the form of medication was a big step for me."
Poor pushes herself hard. After helping the Lord Jeffs reach
their first Division III championship game last season, she
graduated as Amherst's career leader in goals (41) and points
(105). In the winters she turned to diving, a sport she hadn't
even tried until high school. Last year she finished eighth in
the nation on both the one- and three-meter springboards. "She
worked harder than any diver I've ever had," says Amherst diving
coach Mandy Hixon. "Her tenacity helped her rise above divers who
were more experienced and, probably, more talented."
Poor graduated magna cum laude with a double major in chemistry
and biology. She plans to get a Ph.D. in chemistry, but first
she will head to England to try out for semipro soccer. "I know
I can be in a chemistry lab when I'm 50," Poor says, "but I
can't play soccer then." --P.M.
Swimming saved his life in World War II. At 84 he still sets
Paul Krup understands how important swimming can be. On April
10, 1945, Krup, a technical sergeant in the Army Air Corps, was
a radio operator on a B-17 that was shot down by a Messerschmitt
262 twin-engine jet over Oranienburg, Germany. He ejected just
before the plane exploded with five crew members still inside.
As soon as he hit the ground, a pack of angry townspeople headed
his way. Krup ran to a nearby brook and dived in.
On the far bank he was intercepted by a Wehrmacht lieutenant.
"He shooed the people away," says Krup. "He shouted 'You are not
soldat,' which means soldier. If I hadn't been able to swim,
those people would have killed me." Instead, Krup spent one
month in prison camp.
Swimming is still paying dividends for Krup, who retired in 1975
after 33 years on the Cleveland police force and now lives in
South Euclid, Ohio. Although he will not be 85 until Sept. 19,
the 5'9", 155-pound Krup last month set a world record in the
85-89 age group at the U.S. Masters Swimming championships at
Cleveland State by finishing the 50-meter butterfly in 51.12
seconds. He also set national age-group records in the 50-meter
breaststroke (50.74) and 100-meter breaststroke (2:03.96).
"He'll say he's slowing down, but he's not," says Laura Kessler,
the president of Krup's Masters Swim Club. "He's out there every
day. He does it out of a love for swimming."
Krup, who swam in high school and for two years in the late '30s
at Ohio State, cites his elder brother Pete as his inspiration.
"My brother was a terrific swimmer," he says. Pete, an Army
private, died in June 1944 during the Normandy invasion.
Krup and his wife, Ruth, have been married for 32 years; he has
two children from a previous marriage and one grandchild. He
never stopped swimming, but when he left his postretirement job
as a security guard in 1997, he got back in the water in earnest
and has never regretted it.
"I got up this morning and just felt lousy," Krup said one
recent afternoon. "My back hurt, my leg hurt, I didn't have an
appetite. Then at one o'clock I went to the outdoor pool. I put
on a bathing cap and swam a little over a mile, using all
strokes. I came out feeling like a million bucks. It's like that
every day. I feel lousy all day until I get in the water and
His lifting career began 19 years ago, when he was 48
You must first know this about Jerry Kluft: He is 67 years old.
He is retired and a grandfather. He has two hips made of
titanium. He entered his first powerlifting competition seven
years ago. Now consider this: Kluft can bench-press 360
pounds--or the equivalent of Warren Sapp holding a 50-pound
Having set two world records in his age group and won several
local, state and national titles, Kluft, a former real estate
lawyer with three grown children, has proven that it's never too
late in life to pick up something new. He first entered a gym
when he was 48 years old and could barely bench-press 90 pounds.
He lifted recreationally for years while living in Spring
Valley, N.Y. When he and his wife, Wilma, retired to Boca Raton,
Fla., in 1994, Kluft met Gregory Wright, now 40, a competitive
lifter who, seeing a proverbial diamond in the rough, persuaded
him to enter powerlifting contests. "I walked through the door
at my first competition, and all I saw were people who looked
like condominiums with teeth," remembers Kluft, who's 5'11" and
220 pounds. "I started to walk out, and someone put a hand on my
back and said, 'Pop, you're in the right place. Don't worry.' I
competed and won."
Kluft has found a home among those condos. In '99 he benched
358.50 pounds to break an AAU age-group world record. But by
then both his hips had deteriorated severely, a condition he
attributes to years of playing basketball and softball, and soon
he could barely walk. He had both hips replaced in late 2000,
then spent three months exercising in a swimming pool two hours
a day so that he could return to lifting. "The doctors said half
an hour would be enough," he says, "but that's not my style."
Kluft came back last October and set a World Natural
Powerlifting Federation age-group record with a bench press of
336 pounds. Last month he won the bench press in his group at
the World Cup in Oklahoma City with a lift of 319.67 pounds. "I
originally thought he was crazy for lifting competitively
because it was so far-fetched," says Wilma. "But it has given
him a wonderful sense of accomplishment."
There is still one goal that Kluft would like to achieve. "I
would love to get 400 pounds at age 70," says Kluft, whose
360-pound hoist occurred during practice. "I wouldn't care if it
came in a gym with nobody watching. I'd be happy." --Gene Menez
This three-sport athlete happens to excel at rodeo
What's marty eakin going to be like when he's a leathery ol'
cuss of, say, 27? At 19 the kid from Amarillo, Texas, is the
reigning National High School Rodeo all-around champion and
tougher than a two-dollar steak. Five years ago, while riding a
bull at a junior competition, Eakin got "hung up," as the
cowboys say, in his rope. The bull dragged Eakin around the ring
and stepped on his left leg, ripping a deep, six-inch-long gash
in his shin. "Two guys held me down so my dad could pour alcohol
on it," Eakin says in a drowsy West Texas drawl. Did he go to
the hospital after that? "I wrapped it up and finished the
rodeo," he says. "Then I went to the hospital."
Growing up in his flat and sandy Panhandle town, Eakin
(pronounced AY-kin) learned riding and roping before he learned
reading and writing. His father, Jim, is a farrier, and his
mother, Wanda, trains barrel-racing horses. And Marty's three
older brothers--Mark, Matt and Monty--all compete in rodeo.
"When Marty wasn't two years old, we put him in the nursery at
church one Sunday," Wanda says. "During the service a girl from
the nursery came out and told me I needed to take him because he
was trying to ride and rope the other kids." At age six Eakin
earned his first saddle (rodeo's equivalent of a trophy), for
winning an all-around title. Two months ago he won his most
prestigious saddle--representing the national high school
championship--in Farmington, N.Mex.
At 5'11" Eakin is tall for rodeo riding. (It helps to have a low
center of gravity.) Still he excels at virtually every event and
was a three-sport athlete at Caprock High. Last February, at the
Texas high school wrestling tournament, Eakin advanced to the
championship match in the 171-pound class despite having a
broken bursa in his right knee. (He lost in double overtime on a
referee's decision.) Last year, playing in his final game as
middle linebacker and leading tackler for Caprock, Eakin broke
his left thumb. Naturally, he taped himself up and played on.
Banged up or not, Eakin, now a freshman at Vernon (Texas)
College, plans to keep riding, all the way to the pro circuit.
"There's not a better feeling than after having a really good
ride and all the fans are hollering," he says. "It kind of makes
your spine tingle." --G.M.
Chasing the high school home run record, he riveted the Hawkeye
They came from towns and farms all over Iowa whenever
Marshalltown High catcher Jeff Clement played. They filled the
stands at Bobcat Field, sat along the foul lines on lawn chairs,
gathered on the knoll beyond centerfield, stood on the football
bleachers beyond leftfield, watched from nearby rooftops. The
entire state, it seemed, wanted to catch a glimpse of the Great
Home Run Chase of 2002. "Every night," says athletic director
Tim Bell, "the atmosphere was absolutely electric."
Clement, a 6'1", 205-pound lefthanded hitter, entered his senior
season needing 12 home runs to break the national high school
career record of 70, set in 1998 by Brighton (Mich.) High's Drew
Henson, now with the New York Yankees. As Clement neared the
record in late June, another player from Iowa, Winterset High's
James Peterson, was also chasing Henson. Clement got to 71
first, on July 3, but three weeks later he and Peterson were
tied at 73 as the state tournament began. The scholastic version
of McGwire-Sosa had Iowa radio stations interrupting their
programming with live coverage each time one of the principals
stepped to the plate.
In the first game of the tournament, at Bobcat Field, Clement
homered twice. Playing later that day, Peterson couldn't answer,
and Winterset was eliminated. Clement ultimately led
Marshalltown to the state title and finished with 75 homers. "I
was surprised [the record] got so much attention," says Clement,
who was drafted in the 12th round by the Twins but chose to
accept a baseball scholarship to USC.
Clement's other passion is painting. Last spring his pastel of
flowers and water pitchers won top prize in a regional
competition. "Jeff has a great ability to interpret space," says
Mary Anne Tordsen, his art teacher. It was his artistry with the
bat, though, that made the summer of 2002 special. "Jeff gave
people something positive to follow," says his father, Brad,
principal of Miller Middle School. "The record captivated this
community." --Lars Anderson