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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pac-Five: Jordan Ho-Ching

Jordan Ho-Ching piled up the numbers as a receiver and a running back for Pac-Five this season. CLICK FOR LARGE

Ho-Ching's family affair

The Pac-Five player is in the groove in school and on the field with support from two families

HE doesn't remember a lot, not about the breakup. Jordan Ho-Ching was 5, more knowledgeable about Barney and Elmo than the looming problems between his mother and father. So, when Cecilia and Vincent split up, there was no concept of a normal home, not in Jordan's mind. As the only child, the blueprint for his upbringing would be crafted, something of a patchwork, but ultimately, planned out by none other than his divorced, yet amicable parents.

Somehow, he figured out a way to stay focused on academics and athletics, though not necessarily in that order all the time. When he was an eighth-grade basketball standout at St. Elizabeth, mom benched her son.

"I told his coach, 'Sorry, he can't play,' " Cecilia said. "Just because you're the star player doesn't mean anything. If you don't study, you shouldn't play."

So, Jordan complied. When he graduates from Maryknoll next June, his grade-point average will be in excess, he says, of 3.2. He has a 3.8 GPA in the recent trimester to prove his point, and Cecilia's, for that matter.

By age 9, the Wolfpack's Ho-Ching started doing many football drills with his father, Vincent. CLICK FOR LARGE

With 44 receptions for 673 yards and three touchdowns, plus a couple of 100-yard games as a running back, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior had numbers that led Pac-Five despite defenses that keyed on the speedster.

When the HUB Goodwill Senior Bowl concludes on Friday, he will put on his basketball gear for the Spartans. He is one of the best two-sport athletes in the state, and along the way, Ho-Ching also became all-world in diaper-changing, bottle-feeding and babysitting.

Pretty good for a naturally persistent, occasionally stubborn young guy who easily could have walked the other way.

AFTER LONG SEASONS of struggle with the Pac-Five football team, Ho-Ching is relishing an extended season as a senior. The Wolfpack annually compete well with Oahu Interscholastic Association Red and White Conference teams, winning more than losing in nonconference matchups. But then the Interscholastic League of Honolulu schedule begins, and the 'Pack slide in the state's toughest football conference.

Ho-Ching saw the Wolfpack make strides over the past four years, but early-season wins over Kaiser and Kalaheo don't register in the ILH scroll of wins and losses. His fans, of which there are more than he ever imagined, know the highlights. Seven catches for 127 yards against Kaiser. Eight receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns against Radford. Eight carries for 140 rushing yards against Iolani. An 82-yard kickoff return to the end zone against Saint Louis. Twelve catches for 157 yards against Kamehameha. A total of 139 yards from scrimmage against Iolani in the teams' second meeting.

But the one that Ho-Ching remembers is a performance against Damien in the final game of the season. He ran for 126 yards on just 14 carries with a touchdown. He will clutch that memory, though, because the Wolfpack finally won an ILH game after weeks of frustration.

AFTER VINCIENT and CECILIA divorced, Vincent moved to Seattle, where he continued his career in law enforcement. Jordan flew there for the summers. Cecilia and Jordan moved to New Jersey, where her sister lives, for a couple of years. Once they returned to Hawaii, she supported their bonding all the way through.

By the time Jordan was 9, Vincent was still a police officer and still hanging out with his son. In Seattle, they'd go to the park, where Vincent put his son through all kinds of drills.

"He was strict on me playing football. Every day, I ran routes and tried to perfect my cuts. These were drills where he'd whip the ball at me. He'd whip it, the ball's halfway and then he'd call 'ball,' then I could turn and look," Jordan recalled. "In the beginning my hands could not handle it, but he took me there every single day."

When Vincent moved back to the islands, the workouts continued. It was just a way of life for the former Kaimuki standout, who grew up in Palolo with a Chinese father and Samoan mother, and became a standout middle linebacker in football and forward in basketball for the Bulldogs in the early 1980s. Always talented, always soft-spoken.

"If it wasn't for him, I would be nowhere in sports. He took me every day to play at the police academy (in Waipahu). We used to train when he would train," said Jordan, who would tag along and run the mile with pops.

LOSING HURTS, but when the season ends, the ties remain.

"The frustrating thing was our team was working hard and we kept coming up short. It bothered me that we weren't winning because we could do better than that, but it wasn't dreadful at practice. We kept working hard," said Ho-Ching, who wouldn't trade his career at Pac-Five and Maryknoll for anything else.

"Nope, I would've stayed with Pac-Five all the way. The group of guys, I got to know them and they supported me no matter what happens. The guys on the team, there's nothing I would trade," he said. "Honestly, I've never had a winning football season, but that kind of humbles me. The coaches are good to me. They treat me good."

Coach Kip Botelho raves about Ho-Ching, but from his point of view, it was discipline that was most important. Botelho, Ho-Ching says, has the right balance.

"Coach Kip is strict when he needs to be. He's a good guy. He helped out our team and he's one of the coaches who tries to focus on everybody and encourages everybody to work hard. You're always one step away from starting, and it's true," Ho-Ching said.

Maybe it's the coach within Ho-Ching, the kid who learned the ropes from a stern, task-oriented father. Or maybe he's just a scout at heart. When he thinks about his three siblings, he thinks big. Real big.

For a long time, he was that only child, and as an only child grows up, the desire for a baby brother or sister rarely wanes. When his parents remarried (other people), he soon got his wish. And then some.

"My baby brother is 2. We call him Johnny, and he's already up to my waist," he said.

Christina, his 6-year-old sister, is already up to his chest. His other 2-year-old brother, Shane, is more of an intellectual.

"He's really smart. I haven't been able to see him, so when I'm with him, I play with him as much as possible."

This is the life of Jordan, who lives with two sets of parents and has siblings that the rest of the world calls "half-brothers" or "half-sisters." In Jordan's book of life, they are embedded in his heart, fully and completely.

Until recently, he lived with his mother's and father's families on an alternating-week schedule. That meant half of his stuff was at one house, with the other half at the other house.

Now that he's busy filling out college applications -- a tedious, time-consuming task -- he is sitting put in Cecilia's home until the chaotic paperwork is done.

"He's such a scatterbrain when it comes to that kind of stuff," she said, probably echoing the sentiments of hard-driving moms everywhere.

Her help, along with her husband John, have made the transition easier for a teenaged kid living in the middle of two households. Vincent's second wife, Deanna, also has a very supportive role.

"I don't identify them as stepparents. Uncle John has always been supportive like my dad. My stepmom is really cool. it's been easy for me to bond with my stepparents. They're the kind of people who make it easy for me to adapt to," he said.

The trickle-down effect of parenting, leadership, even accountability, go beyond Vincent and Cecilia. Lita Paleafei, Jordan's maternal grandmother, lays down the law to an extent.

"She's hard on me, and I'm hard on the sons, but she's not hard on the grandchildren," Cecilia said.

"For a long time," Jordan said, "my mom has always stressed to thank God for everything. Before we could eat, my grandmother would tell us we have to remember and say what we learned at Sunday school.

So the family trekked to nearby St. Elizabeth church in Aiea, where Jordan attended middle school before attending Maryknoll.

The life of alternating homes wasn't impossible, but it certainly wasn't easy for a lone star. Once, he was out of deodorant while staying at Cecilia's house. He almost resorted to using her deodorant, but thought better of it.

"I almost used it, but I decided just to be stink for a while," he said.

No such problem at dad's house, of course. The weaving and transporting, it gets tough, along with the commutes to school in Makiki.

"One of the things that helped me was just praying a lot, asking God to help," Jordan said. "And that really helped."

SOMEHOW, IT COMES back to playing catch. Doing drills. Spending time together with dad. Ho-Ching doesn't bring it up, but he'll speak about the importance of role modeling when he's asked. It's so clear in his mind.

"Everything I can do athletically is thanks to God and my dad. I used to want to be a cop, but he says try something different. I just want to be like my dad. The perfect father," he said.

The academic supervisor, a.k.a. Mom, knows time is running short. Wherever her oldest son goes to college, he just won't be around as often. The son thinks he could have been less, well, persistent.

"Me and my mom didn't always have the best relationship. We didn't always see eye to eye. We're both stubborn. When I became a teenager, I was really stubborn with my mom, but I thank her. She's always there when I need her. She's always there to lend a hand. She's in charge of everything I do and knows what I'm practicing for, what I need to do," he said.

"I talked to her about going to school. Because my dad's been away to Seattle, I think he'll be OK when I'm away. But my mom thought about it when I was in church, and I heard she almost started tearing because she's gonna miss me. I'm gonna miss my younger brothers and sister growing up."

Cecilia has no regrets. Everything she needed to say was said.

"I was on him a lot about a lot of things, and I didn't let him slack. He's the typical teenager, but in our Samoan culture, it's you remember who you talk to. I'm glad he chose good friends," she said.

There is always time to remember the pain. There is, however, also a time to celebrate the gain. Between two homes, four parents, three siblings and two sports, Jordan Ho-Ching chooses the obvious.

He chooses to celebrate.

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