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The "Host Family'" perspective. Susan Kolukisa on R.J. Going and Chris Scura.

POSTED August 13, 2014
BY Timothy W. Gaffney
Twitter: @TimothyGaffney

   For the past several years, in early spring, the great debate begins. Should we or shouldn’t we host a Torrington Titans player for the summer? I’m not sure it’s fair to say “debate” because truthfully it can be categorized as “the hard sell”. Our 14 year-old son, Daniel is the only boy among our three children, so the idea of having another guy in the house is a huge plus. Our oldest daughter, Morgan is 16 years-old and beginning the process of choosing colleges, she loved the idea of having a college student’s brain to pick. And let’s be honest, what teenaged girl wouldn’t say “yes!” to having a college boy spend the summer in her house. For our youngest daughter, nine year-old Sophie, having another big brother to protect her and spoil her would be a thrill. While I have always been a “more-the merrier” kind of mom who loves to entertain, Levent was not convinced hosting a player was a good idea this summer. Aside from logistics about where the player would sleep, we had a week-long vacation planned. Would it be okay to leave the player alone for a week? Would we have the space or the finances to house another person? Well, of course those puppy dog stares and continual begging from the kids won out. We would host a player for the Titans 2014 summer!

            Our friendship with the Titans began in 2011 when we hosted our first player, catcher Shane O’Connell.  Shane arrived later in the season and was injured during a game, so he left early. While we weren’t able to spend an entire summer with Shane, we formed a lasting bond. We continue to stay in touch with him and his family.

            Then, in 2012, Daniel was diagnosed with epilepsy. We partnered with the Titans to help raise awareness about the disorder. We continue to host an annual ‘Team Daniel’ event at one of the Titans’ home games. To date, we have raised over $2500 for epilepsy awareness at our Paint the Park Purple events. It was an easy choice to want to support a team that does so much for our family personally, and that brings positivity to our community as a whole.

            We got that first nervous phone call from Chris Scura at the end of May. I can only guess how awkward and overwhelming it must be to call a complete stranger and say, “Hi, I’ll be living with you for the summer.” We quickly hit it off and after a few more texts and calls, we welcomed Chris into our home on Memorial Day weekend. The boys had their first practices together that weekend and they all marched in the Memorial Day parade as a team. It was a nice way to introduce them to the community and for them to get the chance to know their teammates a little better. Morgan’s birthday just happens to be around the holiday, so we usually host a barbeque at our home after the parade. I am one of four girls and have a rather large extended family. Chris was immediately adopted by my sisters, their husbands and children. In just a couple of days he was not just “our Titan”, but our son, our brother, our cousin. He took on the roles effortlessly.

            Just a few days after his arrival, Sophie had a little friend over – who came equipped with a baseball and a Sharpie to get Chris’ autograph. Chris was up in his room settling in, so I told the girls to go up and knock on the door. They were both too timid to disturb the super star living under our roof, so I walked up with them and tapped on the door. Before Chris could answer, the two girls ran away! So, there I stood, by myself, baseball and Sharpie firmly clutched in each hand. “uhm, can I have your autograph?” I’m sure Chris thought he got stuck with a lunatic, super-fan mom for the summer, but the girls’ giggles in the next room soon gave them away.

            A day or so after that, we were all at a local ice cream parlor having a treat when the General Manager, Joey Abis, phoned to say they had another player in need of a host family and asked if we’d be willing to take in another boy. At the same time, Chris was receiving text messages from that player, a friend from home, about also playing for the Titans.  It was a no-brainer to have RJ Going stay with us as well. Though the accommodations would be a little tight, the boys were happy with the arrangement. And so it began… RJ swooped in like a long lost cousin. He is very outgoing and friendly and had no problem fitting right in as our, now 3rd son.

            The season started and it was a whirlwind of games, travel and down-time shenanigans with the rest of the guys on the team. We were lucky to get to know some of the other boys through their friendships with Chris and RJ.  There is a special sort of bond that teammates make, a brotherhood forged on hours-long bus trips and intensely competitive games. It was nice to see that as a mom of a young boy who is an avid ballplayer and hopes to follow in these boys’ footsteps.  They all played their hearts out this summer and it showed in their successes, both personal and as a team. As the boys solidified their friendships, we also formed a bond between our three families. We regularly met up with the Scuras and the Goings at home games and had a blast cheering on their boys together.

            Friends and neighbors often ask how and why we would volunteer to host a complete stranger for the summer. Isn’t it uncomfortable? Does it always feel like you’re entertaining? How often are you running to store to re-stock your kitchen? The truth is, we go about our lives like normal. The boys join in for dinners or trips to the beach or games in the yard as often as they can or want to. But honestly they do a lot of traveling and a lot of sleeping. It is a grueling schedule for them. Sure, the first day or so is filled with a lot of awkward small talk, but before long we all fell into an easy rapport. Our kids and the boys were constantly playing pranks or placing odd wagers on the others ability to perform random basketball trick shots. We were thrust into the middle of practical jokes on other players which had us all rolling with laughter. We have so many great memories of special times with these boys. Yes, there were nightly raids on the kitchen pantry. Yes, we bought more milk than when we were bottle-feeding babies. Yes, the boys came in from travel at all hours of the night. And, yes, it filled our summer with excitement and laughter.        

            This summer was special for us in so many ways. We shared some of the happiest and some of the darkest of days with Chris and RJ. As many of you know, our Titan boys and their teammates really came through for Daniel during a medical crisis. We are forever grateful to them. It made our bond that much stronger and our goodbyes at the end of the season that much harder. When I think about hosting a player, I’m inclined to say yes to supporting such a wonderfully positive team that does so much for our community. Yet, when I think back on this summer, I know that we could host a hundred boys and never duplicate the magic of this fleeting season with the Titans.


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