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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Much more there than just his hair

This is for his parents, who made the difficult decision four years ago to send their son to live with his aunt and uncle in Portland, Ore. East Palo Alto was no place for John Bloomfield as a teen.
This is for Bloomfield’s oldest brother, who is serving a life sentence in prison because he contributed to the violence in a crime-ridden community. Bloomfield was on his way to doing the same.
His brother might have been a bad apple, but Bloomfield still thinks of him as “my biggest role model” because he tried to talk Bloomfield out of following in his footsteps on a perilous path.
This is for Sierra College head football coach Jeff Tisdel and his defensive coordinator, Ed Eaton, whom Bloomfield credits for providing him an opportunity to turn his life in a positive direction.
Tisdel hands out compliments about as often as he whispers, and the veteran coach does not have a habit of speaking softly. When he calls Bloomfield his best defensive player, he means it.
“I love that kid,” said Tisdel, who named the sophomore linebacker as a team captain this season.
The title did not sit easy with the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Bloomfield, who wondered whether he was worthy of being a team leader. He has always been a follower, running with the wrong crowd as a teen in East Palo Alto.
“It was not the greatest place to grow up,” Bloomfield recalled. “It was real rough growing up there. There was a lot of negativity. I got caught up in all that stuff. I wasn’t doing the right thing.”
Bloomfield, 21, did not start playing football until after he arrived at Grant High School in Sacramento as a senior. He had always wanted to play but was never academically eligible to do so.
His grades improved after Bloomfield moved to Portland and enrolled at Jefferson High as a junior.
“It was really tough,” said his mother, Stella, of the decision to send her son away. “But it ended up good.”
The move was a blessing for Bloomfield because it was an opportunity for him to “start a new life.” His aunt and uncle opened his eyes to the world of religion, and Bloomfield found his faith.
“It was a total 180,” he said. “I thank God for that.”
Bloomfield arrived at Grant High after his aunt and uncle relocated to Sacramento. His parents and siblings soon followed. Bloomfield was reunited with his family and lives with them today.
The time will come when he will move out on his own, but there is no hurry. His family’s roots trace to Tonga, and it is customary for Tongan children to stay at home until they are married.
Making ends meet is a struggle for Bloomfield and his family, which is without a mode of transportation these days. His parents have yet to make it to a Sierra game this season to see their son play.
Bloomfield makes it to and from the college by using buses and the light rail system. He often skips the rail and walks home from the bus stop to save money. He cannot afford a cell phone.
He also does not spend money to cut his hair, which covers the number of the back of his jersey. His hair is a testament to Tongan tradition, although he admits it does get in the way at times.
Life’s luxuries will have to wait. Bloomfield invests his energy these days into his classes and football.
His goal is to play football beyond Sierra. Tisdel has no doubts that Bloomfield can go as far as he desires.
“He’s worthy,” Tisdel said. “The one thing I love about (junior college) kids is they have to overcome a lot of things. He’s doing that, and the other kids look up to him because of his effort.”
After Monday’s practice, Bloomfield had to do 150 yards of “slammers” because he took a bad angle in pursuing a play last Saturday in Sierra’s 40-34 overtime victory over American River.
A “slammer” is a 5-yard sprint after which a player drops to do a pushup. Bloomfield did his 150 and kept going until he reached 400 yards. He punished himself more than the coaches did.
Bloomfield holds himself accountable. He has learned to be responsible for his actions. That is a lesson he learned from his oldest brother, and Bloomfield is determined to make him proud.
When his classmates graduated at Grant High in 2009, Bloomfield was not with them. He lacked the required units for a diploma because he rarely went to school as a freshman and sophomore in East Palo Alto.
His GED earned him admission to Sierra as well as another opportunity to do “the right thing.”
“Very few make it out of the place I came from,” he said. “I’m very grateful. I’ve been blessed.”

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