Sport, support help ease pain

College football: After losing his parents and siblings to AIDS, Maryland recruit Randy Earle found an outlet for his grief on the field and comfort in a sympathetic Long Island community.

College Football

March 12, 2002|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

NORTH MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. - Preoccupied with painting the walls of his bedroom, Randy Earle casually hands his life over to a visitor. He reaches into a box and pulls out a dark brown photo album with a frayed binding.

"You can look at this if you want," he says softly.

Smiles fill the thick book, and they should, based on the success Earle has had at Farmingdale High, good enough for a full football scholarship to the University of Maryland.

But reminders of earlier catastrophe, and not his more apparent blessings, make up much of the album. Many of the smiling faces belong to people no longer living, as Earle's immediate family was ravaged by the AIDS virus.

"Who could imagine waking up and having your whole family gone?" says Earle, whose father, mother, sister and brother were dead by the time he was 16.

Funeral notices and obituaries are part of the collage of artifacts, along with pictures of him as a third-grader at a Fayetteville, N.C., elementary school.

Think of waking up and having your whole family gone. Grief and pain come to mind, and a certain loneliness that Earle experienced as a transient child. And yet, says Charlene Lambert, a Long Island resident who has known Earle as long as anyone, "a beautiful life has come from that tragedy."

In December, Earle made his oral commitment to Maryland. He proposed to his girlfriend of two years, Melissa Perez, a couple of days before Christmas, then boarded a Greyhound bus for Miami to visit his paternal grandmother and to watch Maryland play Florida in the Orange Bowl.

In this town, he's a hero of sorts, having rescued a mother and daughter from an automobile accident in the summer before his senior year. For his exploits on the football field, he is known on a local sports highlights show as "Real Deal Randy Earle."

Earle, who will turn 19 this summer, is living with the second of two families that have taken him in during his high school years. They have given him more than room and board, offering normalcy.

Pausing in his basement bedroom, he considers painting the ceiling, surveying the room already half-coated in Smurf-blue. He wonders where he should take Perez for Valentine's Day, how he could get a car and a TV.

He sells clothes at a place called Sid's Pants in nearby Hicksville. At 230 pounds and with a chiseled 6-foot-3 frame, he's had chances to work as a model, the tattoos and tongue piercing notwithstanding.

"Randy, he's like the mayor," says Nancy Cion, whose two sons also go to Farmingdale and who has been Earle's host for the past seven months. "Everyone knows him, and as soon as you meet him, you fall in love with him."

Since moving to this area as a 12-year-old, his is a story he had (until recently) reserved for coaches, counselors and close friends, who fill in the outline that he provides. "It's not a blur - you never forget something like that," he says. "But it's something you live with, basically."

Earle becomes downcast when people bring up their parents, or on days associated with family, like Christmas or Father's Day. His high school coach, Buddy Krumenacker, has seen even more painful moments. It was in his office that Andrea Earle's ashes sat three years ago when one of Randy's relatives left them at the school following a nasty falling out.

"It's been really hard emotionally and physically," Earle says. "A lot of things I've gone through would break down a normal person. ... People don't understand why I wouldn't be blacking out and flipping out, and to tell you the truth, I don't even know."

Bleak beginnings

Earle's parents abused drugs in the early 1980s, and it was intravenous use that caused both to contract HIV, which was transmitted to his younger siblings. Randy had a reprieve of sorts: he was born addicted to crack in 1983.

At the time, it was thought that crack babies would suffer brain damage, a thesis later discounted. Lambert didn't see any progressive problems with Earle when she met him at age 6 or 7.

"I saw a lot of kids who were messed up pretty bad with that, but he seemed OK," says Lambert, a nurse. "He seemed quiet. A little depressed. But that was because he had been bounced around so much."

Born in Harlem, he was raised first in the Bronx, then in Fayetteville - where he lived with relatives who had the same problems as his parents - then in Bath, N.Y., and then the Bronx again before landing with a great-aunt in Farmingdale, N.Y.

As a pre-teen, he chafed under his aunt's demand that he help in her business taking care of disabled children in her home.

"There were situations where I didn't feel 100 percent comfortable, or people force you into a relationship where you don't feel like it's yours," Earle says. "It was like going to school, then going right to work."

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