Coral Springs Christian boys’ basketball coach Steve Fitzgerald and his wife Teri were already stretched to the financial limit with six children when fate paid another visit to their front door.
Unsettled by the news that Fitzgerald’s two Nigerian-born players Alaowei Talent and Abule Abadi were being uprooted from one host family to another, the Fitzgeralds cobbled together enough money to file adoption papers and make the 6-7 Alaowei and 6-6 Abule their newest sons.
The Fitzgeralds, rooted deep in faith, said bringing Alaowei, 16, and Abule, 15, into the fold with Dublin, Aiden, Mackenzie, Jackson, Liam and Austin — a 6-7 forward for the Crusaders — was a calling they could not ignore.
“We both just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Teri Fitzgerald said. “Steve just had it on his heart to adopt Alaowei and Abule and I always wanted more children. When Steve suggested it, I just knew it was what God wanted us to do. When we sat our children down to talk about it. They were beyond excited.”
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The journey Alaowei and Abadi, who fare from the same Nigerian town of Otuan, took them to Coral Springs Christian and ultimately to the same family as adopted brothers.
Abadi, the son of a politician, came from a priveleged upbringing and private school background.
Alaowei, on the other hand, said his birth family is poverty stricken. Alaowei recalled the times he didn’t have money for sneakers and played basketball in bare feet.
Perhaps Alaowei’s first step to escape a similar hardship came when as a 12 year old, he made a two-hour trek by foot to a basketball camp hosted by former Cleveland Cavaliers forward Ejike Ugboaja.
“I don’t know how life would be if I didn’t make that trip,’’ Alaowei said. “That day I heard that they were having a camp. We had to pay for transportation and I didn’t have money so I decided to walk. Back home you don’t get anything. Basically you have to fend for yourself.”
Alaowei and Abule became acquaintances at the camp not knowing their paths would cross again at Coral Springs Christian.
While Abule was considered a raw post prospect at the time, Alaowei caught the eye of camp counselors with his more advanced ball-handling and shooting skills.
After Alaowei moved to Georgia and returned to Nigeria after his visa was revoked, he and Abule ultimately reunited at Coral Springs Christian three years ago.
Alaowei, a rising junior wing, and Abule, a freshman, are expected to play key roles in the Crusaders’ return bid to the FHSAA Class 3A State Final Four.
Alaowei, who has made a name as a defensive stopper, will need to shoulder more of the scoring load after being a complementary offensive player last season. Abule, meanwhile, has the bulk and athleticism to fill the void left by Nura Zanna, another Nigerian born player, who led the Crusaders to the 3A state championship game last season.
Of course, feeding and outfitting four children 6-5 or taller and Steve Fitzgerald, who stands 6-7, presents challenges. Even on a tight budget Teri Fitzgerald said the weekly grocery bill averages $400.
Through it all, Steve Fitzgerald said the values and life experiences Alaowei and Abule have brought to their new family has made it all worthwhile.
“It is hard for me to remember a time now when Alaowei and Abule weren’t with us,” Fitzgerald said. “I really feel like they have brought just as much or more to our family. Helping our kids appreciate what they have. You think with that many kids there would be constant conflict but there isn’t. Alaowei and Abule have taught how to have respect and space for each other. I can’t imagine life without them.”