Down on his luck and down to his last chance,a troubled teen finally finds home, sweet, home.
MAPLETON - Clam chowder simmers on the stove top. Freshly smoked salmon sits on the counter. A fire crackles in the hearth. And a couple dozen steps off the back porch, bright yellow maple leaves float lazily down the Siuslaw River.
Mom and little sister work a jigsaw puzzle at the table. Dad talks on the phone. And Kerry Herring unfolds casually, as only a teenager can do, into a comfortable sofa.
"Home, sweet home," he says - and there is nothing casual about this, nothing at all.
By his count, Kerry has lived 10 different places in the last two years, several nights spent under the Washington-Jefferson Street Bridge not included. And until 11 months ago, he was not part of the Barrows family.
So when Kerry says, "I'm just a normal kid, living a normal life," it's significant.
Before we go further, understand this story is only marginally about sports. Two weeks ago, Kerry rushed for a Mapleton High School record 409 yards in a win over Alsea. In his first year of football, the senior is one of the Sailors' best players. But at 6-foot and 175 pounds, he's not a superstar. His future might include small-college athletics, or not.
More important, there is a future.
Also, this isn't about how sports saved a kid, though Kerry also plays basketball and runs track. It's about how a family opens its arms to an outsider, and how a prodigal grabs his last chance and holds on with everything he has, and what happens then.
"It's amazing, is what it is," Kerry says.
A year ago, Kerry Herring was a nomad, headed nowhere - and getting there fast. He had dropped out of school, again. He worked part-time and partied full-time, "drinkin' and druggin'," and figured there wasn't much else.
A year ago, Rick and Carol Barrows were enjoying retirement, contemplating their rapidly emptying nest and exploring their options.
After 30 years as a Mapleton school music teacher, Rick started a fishing guide service. Carol considered turning their rambling, wood-framed house into a bed-and-breakfast.
Now, the Barrows are "Mom" and "Dad." Kerry is "a blessing." This whole situation is "a divine appointment."
Kerry's story started in Mapleton, where he was a childhood friend of the Barrows' youngest son, Johnny. Midway through seventh grade, Kerry moved to Florence with his mother.
He fell in with the wrong crowd, started smoking marijuana, doing mushrooms, drinking alcohol. He was kicked out of school a time or two. There was a DUI, and an overdose, and still just "one mission: getting as high as I could."
"He was just completely out of control," says Duwanee Leturno, Kerry's mother.
Finally, Duwanee had enough. Two summers ago she kicked him out. The 16-year-old moved to Eugene, moved in with a friend. Three months later, he moved out, moved in with someone else. And soon enough, he had run out of places to go.
Carrying his guitar and a shoebox full of clothes, Kerry spent two weeks shivering beneath the bridge, before finding his way to a counseling center, and then eventually to an uncle's in Reedsport.
That ended badly, too, with another forced exit. And from there, it's a blur.
"I don't remember much," Kerry says. "I just remember I met a lot of people and stayed in a lot of homes."
Houses and apartments, actually. Home was waiting in Mapleton.
Rick and Carol Barrows had three boys of their own, then adopted three girls, biological sisters. Nicole, 17, and Justice, 11, are still at home. They didn't need another child, much less an extra headache.
Their leap of faith is more remarkable considering that, even though Kerry had once been a regular visitor, he had also once been an intruder. Years earlier, he'd broken into the house and stolen a cell phone.
And understand, a leap of faith is exactly what this was. This is a family that prays together, and stays together. Four or five nights a week, they actually sit down to dinner together.
Carol Barrows was at a Bible study in Florence when a newcomer suddenly mentioned, "Kerry is in despair." She began praying for the Kerry she knew. And a day or two later, Carol ran into Kerry's older brother Chris, and her "gut feeling Kerry needed us" was confirmed.
This is remarkable enough. But something was happening on the other end, too.
Kerry was in Reedsport. He had dropped out of school, again, and he was moving around, again. The path led downhill, and he knew it.
"This is where it gets cool," Kerry says. "I met this girl."
She was a girl friend, not a girlfriend. They talked about a lot of things, and she had some simple advice: "You need," she told Kerry, "to get on your knees and ask the Lord to take over."
So Kerry did. Suddenly, he didn't want drink or drug. And the funniest thing happened. He immediately thought of the Barrows family, and how they'd sometimes taken him to church when he was little, and he wondered how they were doing.
Three days later, his brother called.
"The Barrows want you to stay with them and finish out high school," Chris told Kerry.
This wasn't undertaken lightly. Rick Barrows figured at 53, he didn't need to raise another kid, much less a problem child. He instituted a zero-tolerance policy.
"I was not gonna play games," Rick says.
"If the old Kerry popped up, he was gonna be down the road."
By all accounts, the old Kerry never showed up. Kerry says he hasn't relapsed, and hasn't wanted to. The Barrows say they haven't had a lick of trouble. Initially skeptical coaches and teachers say they're amazed at the metamorphosis.
The former drop-out carries a 3.75 grade-point average. He won't finish high school until December 2008. But after that, he's thinking about college, and possible careers: marine biology, or counseling, or teaching.
"He's definitely out to prove something," Mapleton coach Jeff Greene says. "It's an incredible turnaround."
Kerry arrived pale and thin, looking like he hadn't had a good meal in a long while.
"He was just so hungry," Carol says.
With home cooking, Kerry has put on 30 pounds, grown a couple inches. But Carol is talking mostly about other kinds of nourishment. The Barrows bought Kerry a Bible, and he started attending the church youth group, and he's just been, Carol says, "lapping it up."
Rick has become the father figure Kerry had missed since brother Chris, older by seven years, went off to the Air Force. Surrogate dad and son do chores together, and fish and hunt, and just hang out.
And his real mother couldn't be prouder. Duwanee Leturno says she's considered inviting Kerry to return home, but decided "he's best where he's at."
For his part, Kerry has never considered leaving.
"Why would I? Look what I've got now, an awesome family that loves me," he says. "It doesn't get any better than this. Hey, I'm home."
With a family, and a future.
George Schroeder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Title Annotation:||Sports Columnist|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Oct 18, 2007|
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