The Wall Street Journal reports on families who relocate for the sake of their young sports prodigies. Excerpts:
Last year, Peter and Jackie Hunt moved to Bradenton, Fla., to enroll their two sons, Ethan, 13, and Conrad, 9, in IMG Academy, a sport-oriented boarding and day school where they play soccer. The school, formerly known as the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, touts tennis stars Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova as alumni. It has 16 soccer fields, four baseball diamonds, three football fields and 57 tennis courts. It costs roughly $50,000 a year for day students.
Mr. Hunt, a real-estate investor, was living with his family in the Bahamas for a few years abroad from their home in Weybridge, England, when friends told them about IMG. Mr. Hunt said specialty sports schools can provide a competitive edge.
“That could help you get into a better university than you would through your regular schooling,” said Mr. Hunt, 48.
The Hunts rented a large, four-bedroom apartment on campus for $9,000 a month. Delighted by how much less expensive Bradenton property is compared with the Bahamas and their hometown in England, they purchased a $310,000 house near campus in October. They are going to spend $300,000 to “completely gut” and rebuild it into a British West Indies-style house, said Mr. Hunt. They plan to stay there until their kids graduate from high school, he said.
Meanwhile, in the same edition of the Journal (December 16), there’s a report about kids who live in the same country, but in different worlds:
The police officer who entered Mikaya Feucht’s Ohio apartment found it littered with trash, dirty dishes and plastic milk jugs full of the opioid addict’s vomit.
He also found two toddlers, aged 3 and 2, who watched as the officer uncovered the track marks on their mother’s arms and looked in vain for any food to feed them.
That was three years ago. By the time Mikaya overdosed and died from the elephant tranquilizer carfentanil this summer, her sons were living with their grandparents. But the chaos of watching their mother descend into addiction will burden them for years. They were often hungry and dirty in her care, and spoke of being hit with a belt by her boyfriend, according to their grandparents.
At the funeral home before Mikaya, 24 years old, was cremated, her younger son, Reed, clung to her through the open casket. “And it wasn’t just a quick hug. It was heartbreaking,” says Chuck Curran, his grandfather.
Widespread abuse of powerful opioids has pushed U.S. overdose death rates to all-time highs. It has also traumatized tens of thousands of children. The number of youngsters in foster care in many states has soared, overwhelming social workers and courts. Hospitals that once saw few opioid-addicted newborns are now treating dozens a year.
And many of the children who remain in the care of addicted parents are growing up in mayhem. They watch their mothers and fathers overdose and die on the bathroom floor. They live without electricity, food or heat when their parents can’t pay the bills. They stop going to school, and learn to steal and forage to meet their basic needs.
Many who were preparing for retirement are suddenly faced not just with the unraveling of a previously functional adult child, but with several young mouths to feed.
Paula and Jim Meisberger, of Lebanon, Ind., adopted three of their grandchildren last year, after heroin addiction overcame the youngsters’ parents.
“For my husband’s 35th anniversary at the company everyone asked if he was going to retire. He said, ‘No, I have a newborn,’ ” Ms. Meisberger says of her husband, a 56-year-old UPS driver. “Don’t get me wrong, I love the kids with all my heart and soul. But this should be our time,” she says. “I would love to be able to spoil them and send them home.”
Read the whole thing. I really wish you would.
I learned about these two stories from a reader, who sent me a copy of a letter he wrote to the Journal. It reads as follows:
I do not have the sense that The Wall Street Journal’s journalistic or editorial staffs are particularly sensitive to irony, but the juxtaposition of the articles “The Children of the Opioid Crisis” and “Families on the Field of Dreams” in one issue (December 16) was either truly inspired or remarkably obtuse. What a wonderful illustration of the hollowed-out world we have made. On the one hand, you have children irreparably scarred by a society without strong religious, community or familial bonds, where values like prudence, temperance and simplicity have been replaced by a mindless pursuit of a pleasurable fix, the logical outcome of a world in which the only values are a mindless, soulless pursuit of material goods and an almost totalitarian hedonism. And the story only featured the luckiest cases, children who had grandparents who were able to intervene or were lucky to find a kindly foster family. Think of the poor angels who have not even been that lucky. Jesus wept.
On the other hand, you have stories of parents, all wealthy, all white, all ostensibly educated, whose highest telos seems to be water polo or soccer or skiing for their coddled teenage children and who therefore uproot themselves from whatever home and community they and their children have known to pursue such big goals as playing hockey for Boston College. Big dreams! What lessons are these children learning? That the pursuit of some solipsistic and socially worthless goal involving sports (!) should supplant the needs and company of their immediate families, not to mention those of grandparents and uncles and aunts and childhood friends. That your father should live in an upper-crust boardinghouse so you can play a sport that only seemed meaningful when the Russians and the Hungarians left blood in the Olympic pool in 1956.
This is the world we have all made and the shame and the blame extends to all of us. Because we listened to the free traders for whom the value of cheap goods from China via Walmart was more important than the industrial jobs that sustained young families and provided some discipline and dignity to young lives. To the entertainment elites that cynically peddled a culture of indulgence and irresponsibility in various seductive packages, wherein the only value is to have a good time and whose narrow idea of consequences is confined only to the immediate participant, not those whose lives the participant touches. To the professional elites who looked down on their fellow citizens who had to do society’s dirty jobs and who were more worried about some carbon dioxide in the air than what would happen to those miners and processors when all their jobs were gone. To the political class, who among many crimes on the road to the welfare state abetted the baby daddies abandoning their offspring, paid unmarried women to have more children and offered a vision of society in which you are either a winner or a hand-out recipient. Even to those saintly grandparents featured in the opioid story, who could not figure out how to protect their children from the corruption all around them.
Some of us are considering the virtue of a retreat into smaller communities in which traditional values can be supported, what the essayist Rod Dreher calls the Benedict Option. Stories such as these may give us the push we need, although we must also maintain hope for those left behind.
UPDATE: A reader writes:
Bradenton is my hometown and, yes, we are known for the premier sports academy in the country, IMG Academy. It’s exactly what you would expect it to be: a posh oasis for the moderately athletic children of wealthy parents. The neighborhood near the school is very nice but can be very affordable if you are the type of person who can afford to send Johnny or Janie to an elite sports academy. So, many parents have bought second (sixth? seventh?) homes in the area. I won’t elaborate too much on my personal experience but I have known several students and faculty. The students are what you’d expect. Mostly ultra-wealthy and entitled from being told how wonderful they are. The staff are mostly former athletes.
That said, the juxtaposition of the two articles in the WSJ was telling. But more fascinating is that Bradenton, specifically, is considered to be the (perhaps “an”) epicenter for our country’s opioid problem. Our drug problem (and even though I no longer live there, I still consider it home) has completely taxed our ERs and first responders. We have many times more ODs per week than the national average and I, personally, know of at least 3 people who have died as a result of a drug overdose within the past 2 years. These aren’t junkies either. Our area is fairly affluent and, of my acquaintances, all are from standard middle to upper class families.
A prominent physician in the area has two sons. Both had every opportunity: private school, athletics, summer camps, etc. Mom and dad are good, caring individuals. The family are committed Roman Catholics and the boys were raised in the church and well-catechized, as far as I know. All grown up, one is an attorney and the other is a junkie. The epidemic does not know class and it has hit almost every family I know, in some way – including my own.
Just thought I’d add my own comment because the juxtaposition you pointed out was happening within the community mentioned in the first article. Not sure it’s terribly relevant to the point you were making about the WSJ, but I thought it would be an interesting addendum.