Antwan Reddick leaned against the padded blue walls of the Owings Mills wrestling room and smiled.
With a 26-1 record this season, the 152-pound senior hopes to win his third straight county title in this weekend's Baltimore County championships at Franklin. The first two came in Prince George's County while he wrestled at DuVal, and he finished as the Class 4A-3A runner-up last season at 138 pounds.
Yet sometimes it's hard for him to smile.
Since he was 5 years old, Reddick has been in foster care. He has endured things that no 17-year-old should have to, including a mother with a criminal record and what he says were abusive foster parents.
"This is my 17th foster home right now," Reddick said. "But it's OK. This is hopefully my last placement before I go off to college."
The average American foster child goes through three placement changes while in the system, according to statistics from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.
But then again, Reddick has never been an average foster child.
He was stillborn in Lorain, Ohio, and revived after an emergency helicopter flight to Cleveland. His twin brother, Antovion, also survived the birth. A third child did not.
Their mother, Tosha Rainey, pleaded guilty to cocaine possession and received three years' probation. After violating that probation, she spent eight months at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, a state prison.
Reddick and his brother lived in various foster homes together until they were 13.
Like many siblings, they often got in heated arguments and fights. Unlike other siblings, however, those fights sometimes got them kicked out of the house and moved to a new family.
Some foster parents have been better than others, Reddick said. One couple had a heated pool, a Cadillac and "the biggest house on the block." Another woman took him in three separate times when he had nowhere else to go.
But others were not as kind. Reddick said one foster parent would wake him up in the middle of the night and ask him to do strange things, like take out the trash. Others, he said, abused him.
Wrestling became a way for him to get away from it all.
"I think this is where he feels he can be in control of what he's trying to do in his life," Owings Mills assistant coach Solomon Carr said. "[He feels] like he's supported here and the coaches really care for him, and this is his safe haven from the rest of the world."
Reddick started wrestling as a freshman at DuVal after coach Cortez Hayes asked him to join the team.
He was heavier then — "160 pounds and no muscle" — and struggled to motivate himself.
"Every day I'd be like, 'I'm not coming back here, fellas.' And I would be so serious, like I'm not doing this anymore," Reddick said. "But every day I was like, if I do that, I have to walk by these guys every day and be a quitter."
Even at Owings Mills, where he transferred because his group foster home in Southern Maryland was shut down last year, Reddick sometimes struggles with motivation.
"He's one of those kids that could, at any moment, [say], 'That's it, I don't care' and just walk away," Eagles coach Guy Pritzker said.
But Pritzker also said he has seen Reddick grow.
The senior has become a role model and mentor for several younger wrestlers on the team.
His most recent report card had B's on it instead of the D's he used to receive. His new foster mother, Euodias Parker, called him "a blessing."
Pritzker said: "He sees the end of the tunnel, he sees graduation, he wants to wrestle in college now. I've seen a lot of long-term goals, where before it was short-term."
Last week, Reddick left the wrestling room early for a photo shoot. He climbed two flights of stairs, shuffling past teammates and classmates, slapping hands with everyone along the way.
"It doesn't really matter where [home] is, as long as I'm around all my friends," he said. "People I can call my brothers. Girls I can call my sisters. That's a bond that you really can't just unlock as quickly."
Upstairs, in a quiet hallway, the camera flashed. And Reddick smiled.
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