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Daughters Will Make It, With Help From Their Friends : Benefit: UCI recruit and four younger sisters survived a family tragedy. Now, San Diego Chargers have helped organize a fund-raiser for them.

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 tonight’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 lives, because the five of us are together, and what our parents taught us before this happened is going to help.”

It has 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 in El Cajon to embrace the help and support of friends and relatives. Members of the San Diego Chargers and media will meet in a benefit basketball game at 7.

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“Saturday night will be fun,” Christina said. “But 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 and a scholarship to UC Irvine 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 San Diego County.

Now, as she said, “I’ve had to grow up a lot faster than maybe I should have.”

Two months ago, Helen Adams 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,” Helen said. “Kelly, go 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.”

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-grader 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 problems 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.”

There was speculation early on that Christina Adams would decline her athletic scholarship to UC Irvine and remain in San Diego to care for her sisters.

But 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.”

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.”

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 it anymore. But I’m not by myself. Two very important people are no longer with me, but I’m not by myself.”

No, she’s not. Charger Coach Dan 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.

Henning agreed to coach the media, risking another loss on his record. Bill Walton will coach the Chargers.

Charger quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver took himself out of Neil Lomax’s golf tournament in Oregon to stay here and raise money.

“No big deal,” Tolliver said. “It’s just a chance to help our own in San Diego.”

Controversial defensive lineman Burt Grossman, who delayed his vacation to participate, says, “I’m helping because oftentimes 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.”

A company not only offers to donate T-shirts for the game, but takes the time to design a uniform “For The Kids” logo. A ‘50s and ‘60s band will have no stage and no room to perform, but they will find a way, they say.

The list of donors, including overtime help from the Chargers’ public relations staff and Grossmont College, is as long as the list of Charger players who have volunteered to rough up the media.

Charger owner Alex Spanos received cooperation from Continental Airlines to offer an all-expenses-paid trip to Denver for the Chargers’ Sept. 22 game as a raffle prize and 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.

If the designated media player hits more three-pointers than the player for the Chargers, Spanos said he will donate another $500 to the children’s fund.

“Why are they doing this for us?” Christina Adams wanted to know. “It’s exciting; it’s just unbelievable. I want to 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 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.’ ”

The question is there: How does Christina Adams feel about her father?

“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.

“But 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 everyday thing. We weren’t a weird family. We were a close family until this. . . .”


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