Basketball Game Benefits Girls Who Lost Parents

TIMES STAFF WRITER

She says it must be difficult for some people to know what to say, but Christina Adams wants people to meet five happy girls at Saturday night's basketball game for their benefit.

"That's the way we are," she said. "We're not going to be tortured the rest of our life, because the five of us are together, and what our parents taught us before this happened is going to help."

It's been a little more than two months since Hank Adams shot and killed his wife, Theresa, and then himself. Left behind were the five Adams children: Christina, 18; Katie, 12; Kelly, 5; and twins Erin and Ashley, 4.

Mother's Day has come and gone and it was not easy, and their dad's recent birthday stirred further emotions. Little Kelly's graduation from kindergarten was another jarring reminder, and now, on the eve of Father's Day, they will gather at Grossmont College to embrace the help and support of friends and relatives.

"Saturday night will be fun," Christina said. ". . . Father's Day will be just another day and something to deal with. It's what I do every day. I have to. I'm not going to go and hide for the day. I may at times get sad, but I'm not going to be crying the whole day and saying I can't deal with this."

The athlete is talking--the 5-foot-6, tough-minded basketball performer who carved out a stellar career by steadfastly refusing to give ground. She has her dark moments, she said, but they will be her own. What matters now, she said, is moving on.

"When I first found out that it was as bad as it could be and both of my parents were gone, I said, 'OK, I have no control over this.' It sounds totally cold, but I had no control.

"All I have control over now is what I'm going to do and what is going to happen with the girls. Living with that in mind has helped me. Sure, it's also out there every day. . . . What could I have done? Maybe I could've. . . . I should have. . . . I don't know. I'm just trying to be smart."

Until all this happened, Christina Adams was just a carefree teen-ager with a reputation for being the girls' No. 1 three-point shooter in the nation and one of the best basketball players in the county.

Now, as she said, "I've had to grow up a lot faster than maybe I should have."

You have had Jim McMahon blow his nose on you, Steve Ortmayer throw a lighted cigar your way and you have foiled Elvis Patterson's attempt to put a garbage bag over your head and haul you off to the showers.

The idea of spending your spare time with the Chargers is like Tony Gwynn sharing a vacation cottage with Jack Clark.

But you know the Adams' children, and the Chargers want to help the girls, too, so you're willing to play the Chargers in a benefit basketball game Saturday night at 7 at Grossmont College.

How tough can it be? You figure if these guys play basketball like they do football, Junior Seau will be out of position, Eric Floyd won't be able to stop anybody, Burt Grossman and Leslie O'Neal won't pass the ball to each other and Billy Joe Tolliver will overshoot the backboard.

Helen Adams doesn't know Tolliver from Grossman, but then two months ago she had no inkling she was going to trade her two-door car for a seven-seat station wagon.

Helen and Steve Adams, aunt and uncle, have been married about a year and a half. Now they have five children living in their home. In addition to filing for legal guardianship of the Adams' children, they have begun a crash course in parenting.

"Excuse me," said Helen, "Kelly, you need to wipe the lasagna from your face.

"One thing you learn quickly is that little ones need constant attention. But these are good kids and it says a lot for Hank and Terry.

"Of course, we can't be the same parents that Hank and Terry were, but we're trying to provide a loving and stable home for the girls. We had our scary moments in the beginning, you know with nightmares and all, but everybody's adjusting well now."

Steve Adams has lost 20 pounds in the past two months and he remains on the run doing what he can to make it all work for his new family. He doesn't have all the answers yet, he said, but the girls have someone to lean on.

Friends and relatives responded immediately to the girls' needs, but as Helen said, "we've got five weddings, three sets of braces and four more college educations ahead of us. It's kind of sad, kind of happy, a lot of love and a little bit of everything to consider."

Seventh-grade Katie has been elected commissioner of spirit for next year's final year at Our Lady of Grace in El Cajon, and while that presents obvious travel woes each day from Steve and Helen's home in Del Mar, the present plan is to work it out.

"Her whole life has been turned around and that's the one stable thing in her life right now," Christina said. "You know how important that eighth grade year is.

"With Steve and Helen it all came down to what was going to be the most normal situation for all the kids. It's the same last name. And my uncle Steve is similar to my dad--in a lot of ways different--but still like my dad."

You know the pen is mighter than the sword, but what if Leslie O'Neal posts up on KNSD-TV's Jim Stone or XTRA-Radio's Lee Hamilton?

Applications to fill those positions will be accepted at KNSD and XTRA beginning at 9 on Monday.

Mike Dunleavy was available, but Bill Walton has agreed to coach the Charger players in the benefit game. KFMB-TV's Hank Bauer is under orders to muzzle media coach Dan Henning in the event there is any suggestion about a fake fourth-quarter punt.

"Can we make it 'honorary coach?' " Henning said. "I can't afford another loss on my record."

You know Tolliver can't play basketball, but why stop him from betting $500 that he can score more points than Grossman? It's not who can talk the most, but who can score the most.

Tolliver and Grossman also have pledged to donate $10 each for every point the Chargers score against the media. They have dedicated themselves to making Saturday night's event successful by devoting time to promote it.

Tolliver took himself out of Neil Lomax's golf tournament in Oregon to stay here and raise money for the Adams Children Fund and Grossman has delayed his vacation back east to stay and promote the event.

"No big deal," Tolliver said. "It's just a chance to help our own in San Diego . . . and a chance to beat the media by 60 points."

You know, it took the Chargers four weeks last season to score 60 points.

There was speculation early on that Christina Adams would not use her athletic scholarship to UC Irvine and remain in San Diego to care for her sisters.

She said it was wrong. She will attend UC Irvine and she will play basketball.

"It's what my mom and dad would want me to do," she said. "I know the girls will be taken care of; that was my No. 1 concern.

"I worry about starting my season and not having my dad . . . but my grandpa is going to be one radical fan. You would know him from my high school games, he was the one yelling the loudest and my dad probably had to tell him to sit down."

Henning doesn't know Christina Adams, but he knows the value and benefit of an athletic scholarship. And when he heard of her plight, he didn't wait to be asked.

"Just tell me what you want me to do to help," Henning said.

Why are they doing this? Christina Adams wanted to know. "It's exciting; it's just unbelievable. May I write something to thank everybody."

Two hours later she returned with a written thank you; it will be part of an eight-page program for the basketball game.

You make your living writing about Charger losses and the ridiculous things Grossman has to say, and so for respite, you take your 11-year-old daughter to the local high school girls basketball games.

You don't know anybody or anything about what's going on, but the 11-year-old daughter takes a liking to the puffed-up bangs, the nail polish and jump shot of No. 11 for Granite Hills.

The 11-year-old daughter also has an interest in something or someone called Vanilla Ice, and so when she stops singing along with that noise and starts shooting a basketball like No. 11, Christina Adams, soon you're arranging your schedule around Granite Hills girls basketball games.

Along about Christmas time you make like Santa Claus and you ask Christina's parents if their daughter will autograph a basketball for an admiring 11-year-old. Hank and Terry Adams cannot be any more gracious, and after a visit to their home, Santa Claus has a grand prize to give.

Hank Adams put the basketball in Christina's hands in sixth grade and stoked the competitive fire that pushed her to excel.

She averaged a state-record 38.3 points as a junior at Grossmont High School under the tutelage of Coach Frank Foggiano, but after speaking out on behalf of a fired Foggiano at season's end, she was forced to transfer to Granite Hills.

"In the last year, it seems like things kept getting thrown on me," she said. "I've been thinking that may have been for a reason--to prepare me for this.

"I thought Mr. Foggiano's firing was bad. I thought the fact I couldn't play at Grossmont, that's bad. I thought the basketball situation at Granite Hills, that's bad. When my parents separated I couldn't even . . . I mean I said to myself, what's going on, and then this terrible thing happened.

"I'm waiting for one more bad thing to happen. I'm going to break my leg. I'm serious, I'm just waiting for one more bad thing to happen."

The image still lingers. You look back now, and you were there with your 11-year-old daughter and Hank Adams at Christina's final basketball game. At the time, you thought it could get no worse than this--a season-ending loss on top of an otherwise forgettable year.

After the game you remember watching Hank and Christina drive off together. You recall telling your 11-year-old daughter how difficult and special it must be for father and daughter now that all the work and practice together have come to an end.

You're waxing sentimental, and the 11-year-old daughter wants to know why you have to listen to Hacksaw.

Anyone who has watched Christina Adams dribble the basketball against a defense solely designed to stop her will understand.

"I don't want people looking at me and saying, 'Oh, that poor girl,' " she said. "I know now there's nothing too hard. If there was, it would have happened to me two months ago. You can't explain how hard it is, but Mom and Dad raised me to be strong.

"Maybe if I didn't have close friends and such a tight family I might have crumbled and said I can't take anymore. But I'm not by myself. Two very important people are no longer with me, but I'm not by myself."

You're sitting on the edge of your daughter's bed searching for the right words to explain what has just happened with Hank, Terry and the Adams' children.

Of all the people who you could have met while watching high school basketball, you have met one family, and this family has now experienced something you cannot imagine. It's something you never thought you're own child would have to come to understand.

She has one question: "Won't this make it hard for Christina to respect her dad anymore?"

"A lot of people wonder about that," Christina said. "I have one aunt who was really close to my mom and so with good reason she hates my dad. But what I told her is you have to understand, yeah, my dad did this, but before this he was my dad.

"Everything he did for me was not taken away because of this. Not everybody knows what was going on with my dad and what medication he was taking. Nobody knows, but I do. I know how he was for 18 years and not just that incident.

"I don't want people to think this was an every day thing. We weren't a weird family. We were a close family until this . . ."

You expect people to help, but you're not prepared for the overwhelming show of support. Mike "Monk" Zandofsky, an aspiring offensive lineman with the Chargers, walks into the office, makes no request for complimentary tickets and purchases four game tickets. Monk's a saint.

Highland Sports not only offers to donate T-shirts, but takes the time to design a uniform "For The Kids" logo. The WingTips, a '50s and '60s band, will have no stage and no room to perform, but they will find a way, they say.

And Grossman says, "I'm helping because often times we're asked to speak to the Lions Club or the young jerks of America or whatever. But rarely do you get the chance to help somebody firsthand. And rather than entertain some yahoo organization, this is a chance to really get something done."

The list of donors, including overtime help from the Chargers' public relations staff, former USD player Paula Mascari and Grossmont College, is as long as the list of Charger players who have volunteered to rough up the media. KUSI-TV's Rod Luck won't even have to do his Geraldo impersonation.

Charger owner Alex Spanos already has received cooperation from Continental Airlines to offer an all expenses paid trip to Denver for the Chargers' Sept. 22 game as a grand raffle prize, and now he will pay $100 for every three-point shot made in 60 seconds by the Charger of Walton's choice and the media representative of Henning's picking.

Byron Scott won't be asked to shoot, but the media will employ a ringer, and if the media player hits more three-pointers than the player for the Chargers, Spanos said he will donate another $500 to the children's fund.

"You think about all the people who have helped and we lucked out," Christina said. "That's why I'm bringing the girls to the game. They won't really understand, but I want to be able to tell them later this is what everybody did. 'And you were there to see it.' "

CELEBRITY BASKETBALL GAME

Who: Chargers vs. San Diego Media

What for: To benefit the Adams Children

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Grossmont College Gym

Tickets: $5

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