Two Jupiter Christian players form a special bond — and they go from friends to brothers
Monday, August 02, 2010
by Jason Lieser
Photo by Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post
The Talbott family: Jennifer (from left), Austin, Susan, Josh, Don, and Renee, pose in front of their home.
This is an unlikely brotherhood.
Nobody would look at Jupiter Christian receivers Austin and Josh Talbott, or hear about their vastly different upbringings, and assume they are part of the same family.
Austin is 16, white and grew up in Palm Beach Gardens, the youngest of three children of Don, a construction contractor, and Susan, a teacher. A happy surprise, Austin was born 12 years after the Talbotts thought they had completed their family with two daughters.
The Talbotts had no idea they would welcome a fourth child 16 years later.
Josh is black, 17, and became a Talbott by way of an improbable adoption this year. He was born Josh Gamble, and his path to this home began in Atlanta, where his drug-addicted, prison-bound parents gave him little hope for the future.
Austin and Josh bonded through football and late nights playing Xbox. At first, Josh would sleep over for a night, but eventually began staying entire weekends before returning to his foster care center.
The boys became closer and closer. Friends would tease them, "Are you guys brothers or something?"
Their pals were on to something.
"Wait a minute," Josh said after a day at the beach last fall. "How sweet would that be if we were brothers?"
Austin replied with a casual, "Yeah," and then the conversation meandered.
But it was a serious idea for both of the young men - within days, Austin had ignited a sequence of events that led to the redirection and redemption of Josh's life.
Austin asked his parents to adopt his friend.
Today their bedrooms are only a few steps apart.
"He told me he was going to ask his parents if they wanted to," Josh said. "And then he goes, 'They're thinking really hard about it.'
"That just started fueling me about how great it would be for us to be a family."
The adoption's rarity is striking. Charles Bender, the executive director of Place of Hope, the Christian foster care ministry where Josh lived for two years before becoming a Talbott, said three factors work against kids hoping for adoption: 1. Older than 10; 2. Non-white; and 3. Part of a sibling group. Josh fit all of those criteria.
In a recent 12-month period, only six of the 144 children adopted in Palm Beach County were older than 16. Josh was fresh off his 17th birthday when the Talbotts finalized his adoption.
Biological father went to prison
Foster care can be brutal, but it was better than the life Josh's parents offered.
His biological father went to prison within five months of Josh's birth and is serving a life sentence for armed robbery and other transgressions.
His mother had four children by four men and could not escape the pull of heroin and cocaine. When Josh was 7, he tried to hide her drugs so she would not use.
Josh and his three siblings landed in his aunt's duplex in Jupiter. Four other children already lived there; eight kids shared two bedrooms.
The Florida Department of Children and Families took Josh, his younger sister, Ikita Johnson, and younger brother, Marvin Howard, when Josh was 14.
Transport vehicles and police cars lined up outside the duplex as their aunt cried and Josh tried to compose himself long enough to pack his few belongings into a black trash bag.
That night, Josh and Marvin landed in separate foster homes in Boynton Beach, with Ikita in a third in Delray Beach.
"It made it even worse when they told us we had been situated in different places," Josh said. "That just added onto the pile."
An answered prayer for a new home
Austin and Josh had been close friends for a year when Austin mentioned his idea to his mother. She wondered if her son fully grasped the ramifications of adoption. He answered that concern directly.
"Mom," he said, "how could you not say yes?"
"That stuck with me," Susan Talbott said. "I still can hear him say that. After he said that, it was almost like there was no reason."
Her husband, Don, also was skeptical at first. He was concerned that adopting Josh would again split him from Ikita and Marvin, who had been reunited at Place of Hope. (Another Jupiter Christian family adopted Ikita in July. Marvin now is at Home Safe, a foster care center, and could be adopted soon.)
Susan Talbott, still gripped by the conversation with her son, went to her bedroom and prayed: "God, if this is meant to be, please change my husband's heart."
Two days later, Don Talbott assented. He realized that once Josh turned 18, he could not live at Place of Hope. Adoption or not, age soon would separate Josh from his siblings. Austin's idea for Josh made sense, Don decided. At least this way, he reasoned, Josh would have a home to return to even after he legally became an adult.
"Then (Don) worked harder to get him adopted than I did," Susan said. "He did all the phone calls, everything it took."
Josh moved in with the Talbotts in January and officially joined the family April 16. He replaced "Mr. Talbott" and "Ma'am" with "Dad" and "Mom." He has his own bedroom for the first time.
Don has a tattoo of three crosses on his left pectoral. Beneath them are four numbers. The first three - 30, 26 and 24 - represent the birthdates of his daughters and Austin.
The fourth, 16, is for Josh's adoption date.
Stable present, promising future
Josh Talbott's developement in football has been almost as rapid and unexpected as his adoption.
He went out for football only when Place of Hope staffers pushed him to be more active. He didn't enjoy the sport initially and had had a brief, half-hearted tryout at Palm Beach Gardens as a freshman. He barely knew the sport when he joined Jupiter Christian's program as a sophomore.
"He didn't know the difference between offense and defense," offensive coordinator Jim Davis said. "He was fast, but it didn't take long for us to see he wasn't ready."
Josh progressed steadily. He started every game last year and is expected to be Jupiter Christian's top receiver and defensive back this season.
He is emerging as a college prospect, too. Josh is 5-foot-11 1/2 and 185 pounds: strong enough to go across the middle, quick enough to turn broken plays into long gains.
A Division 1-AA coach saw him practice and pegged him as a mid-major Division I player.
"He said, 'We'll never have a chance at this kid. He's going to go to a MAC-type school,' " Jupiter Christian coach Bill Powers said.
All of that is in the distance, though. For most of Josh's life, the future has been the only thing worth thinking about. But in this moment, sitting at the dining room table with his new brother, sisters, mother and father, love surrounds him.
He is home.
"I would ask God, 'Why out of all the people in the world who have done this or that, why'd you choose me?' " Josh said. " 'If you love me, why would you let things happen to me like this?'
"I never really got the answer until I was getting older. That's when I realized things happen for a reason. If I had never gone through that situation, I would never be here with my great family."