March 19, 2002
KEVAN Fletcher, a top-notch wrestler for Patterson High School, was found shot to death inside his East Baltimore rowhouse earlier this month, and a pair of teen-age acquaintances have been arrested and charged with his murder.
Did I know Kevan Fletcher? You bet I did.
I knew Kevan Fletcher the way wrestling parents know other wrestlers. I made it my business to know him because, not three weeks before his murder, he stood between my son and a championship title.
As soon as the brackets for the Maryland public schools regional championships came out, it was apparent that Fletcher, who finished 22-5 and second in the city tournament at 152 pounds, was a significant opponent, and I set out to learn everything I could about him.
I read all the newspaper clippings about his season at Patterson. I went on the Internet and looked for common opponents. I eavesdropped in wrestling chat rooms and talked to sports reporters to learn more about him. What was his style? His signature take-down? Did he work well off the bottom? Did he tire easily? Did he have a bum knee or shoulder?
My son tossed aside my scouting report with derision, but it gave me some comfort to know who was out there waiting for Joe, and it was Kevan Fletcher.
For two days in the Meade High School gym, I got to know Kevan Fletcher better, and I did it the way most wrestling parents get to know other wrestlers - by watching.
I looked for the 152-pounder in the Patterson sweats, and once I spotted him, I watched him warm up. I watched how he moved, how he used muscle memory to practice his shots; I measured his quickness.
I watched him shed his sweats: He had ferociously muscular legs and upper arms, and I cringed.
It was easy to keep track of him because he wore unusually high, striped wrestling socks. I watched him hang out with his teammates and with the Patterson fans in the stands. I saw him laughing and smiling. I watched as he cheered for his teammates.
I am sure this seems strange to parents of other athletes, but to a wrestling parent, there is only one other kid in the gym who matters, and that is the kid your kid is going to wrestle. By the end of a meet or a tournament, you can pick out his parents and his girlfriend.
Joe met Fletcher in the quarterfinals of the regional championships and, despite all my mental preparations, I was sick with worried anticipation. Through the same grapevine I had used to scout Fletcher, I heard that Fletcher had scouted Joe.
Joe won the match, and I could tell how disappointed Fletcher was. But he took the loss like a dignified competitor and went onto finish fourth and qualify for the state tournament.
Now Joe is a regional champion, and Fletcher is dead, and I am grieving for that boy the way I would if he had been Joe's classmate or our neighbor. After all, I knew him.
But there is another emotion right there next to the grief, and it is that sickening, fearful, relief you feel when a moving vehicle has just missed striking your child. That is because I know that Kevan Fletcher could be the champion, and my son could be dead.
I write about raising children, so I live my work. But all that has ever done is convince me that getting your child safely to adulthood is a crapshoot. There is plenty of good advice but no formula for success.
My husband and I have cobbled together the family life the experts recommend: two biological parents under the same roof, a stable address and a middle-class income.
We connect to extended family members, and we honor holidays and family rituals. We value education; we practice a religious faith; we direct our children, as best we can, toward kids we like, and we supervise the living daylights out of them.
We are positive, we are encouraging, we tell them we believe they will succeed.
And we are whistling past the graveyard because there is no guarantee any of this will work. That's because we know, to our dismay, that we can't control the choices our children make and some of those choices can be deadly, if only accidentally so.
That's why I mourn Kevan Fletcher. He was an excellent wrestler and a good student, and he had a shot at college. That happy spell was broken somehow, and nobody can say for sure how to keep that from happening to my child or another child.
If there was a surefire method for keeping our teen-agers alive, then everybody would practice it, and Kevan Fletcher, who was just a high school junior, would be alive.
And he would be around next wrestling season for another wrestling parent to get to know.
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