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Friday, July 17, 2009

Patti Haston's legacy lives on in her son

Patti Haston’s legacy lives on in her son
Former IU basketball standout trying to instill late mother’s values into his son, Kenner

May 10, 2009


Kenner Haston has never met his grandmother, but he has heard all about Grandma Haston.

His daddy tells him she was the best mother a son could ever wish for.

She raised him tall and straight, a gentle giant, a God-fearing man. She saw that he attended church on Wednesdays and Sundays, saw that he kept up on his studies, and that he said “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am.” She was his best friend and his biggest fan. She didn’t think twice about driving seven hours to watch him play college basketball.

What a grandmother she would have been but for that terrible day, May 6, 1999.

That’s the day a killer tornado ripped her away from her loved ones. Ten years later, her son, Kirk Haston, has come to grips with it.

Kirk Haston needs no introduction to those who follow Indiana basketball. The 6-foot-10 center enjoyed three superb years at IU from 1998 to 2000. At the end of his junior year, he entered his name in the NBA draft and went in the first round.

It was just two years earlier, a couple of months after his freshman season at IU, that he received that unthinkable phone call. It came only hours after he had spoken to his mother, Patti Haston. Her final words to him were, “Love you.”

That next day, Patti and her friend, Hollis Hinson, huddled in his home, trying to ride out a tornado gauged at 200 miles per hour. Tragically, they were directly in the furious storm’s path, and all that was left of the house was the foundation. Neither of them lived to see their 50th birthday.

Killer tornadoes are all too common in Tennessee. Earlier this spring, on Good Friday, a storm swept through the state and claimed the lives of a mother and her infant daughter — a storm too close to home in too many ways for the son of Patti Haston.

“It forces you to think about it,” Kirk said.
Many reminders
Hardly a day goes by that Kirk doesn’t think of his mother, even 10 years later. Her picture hangs in the wing of the Tennessee elementary school where she taught for 26 years, a wing now named after her.
One of her students was Kirk, who has followed in her footsteps by serving as a staff member in the same school system.

“I go down that hallway, and her picture is there,” he said.

Memories sharpen each year, as Mother’s Day approaches. For Haston they are not your typical Hallmark moments. Not only did he lose his mother around Mother’s Day, he also lost his grandmother, Betty Kirk, in that month. She perished in a car crash in May, 2007.

“There is something about the month of May,” Haston said.

The toughest of times for Haston came in the first two years following Patti’s passing, his sophomore and junior years at IU. The 300 miles between central Tennessee and Bloomington did not keep Patti from attending every home game his freshman year. How elated she would have been to see her son blossom into an All-Big Ten center. How thrilled she would have been to see him beat No. 1 Michigan State on a last-second 3-pointer. How proud she would have been to see him play professional basketball.

“The toughest part for me,” Haston said, “came after those games, especially after big wins. Those were big moments in my life, not just in basketball. I always looked forward to that reaction from her. For me, the game wasn’t complete until I heard from her. It took a long time for me to find a new ‘end’ to the moment, because that was the ending to all my moments before. After that pattern for 20 years, I had to find a new ending. Not having that closure was the toughest thing.”
His faith unshaken
Losing someone so close might have shaken a lesser man’s faith, but all those Wednesdays and Sundays in church prepared Haston for that jolt.

“A lot of people wait for that one moment to get their life right, but I would like to think my faith has been about the same all along,” he said. “I can’t say I’d lived my life any differently before than after.”
If it changed Haston in any way, his teammates didn’t notice.

“I’m sure that when by himself, those ups and downs were there, but as a teammate you couldn’t pick up on it,” said Michael Lewis, who was a junior teammate at the time of the tragedy. Lewis and sophomore Tom Geyer accompanied coach Bob Knight to Tennessee to offer support during those anguished days that surrounded the funeral.

“I don’t know how to describe what it was like down there,” said Lewis, now an assistant coach at Eastern Illinois. “I didn’t know Kirk’s mother all that well, other than seeing her at games, but I felt I just needed to go down there as a teammate. It was just the right thing to do. Publicly, Kirk handled it really well. He knew he couldn’t change it. He knew had to deal with it and move past it.”

Even so, Haston still had his moments.

“You always have that ‘why me’ thing, but God never puts more on your plate than you can handle,” Haston says. “If it took me to experience this so other people could handle something down the line … well, there is nothing fair about life. We are all going to experience four or five difficult things. Once you’ve dealt with one, it makes the others easier to deal with.”
Leaving her mark
In many ways, Haston feels his mother has never left him. He notes areas of his life where she left a permanent imprint.

“The first thing is spiritually,” he said. “I never even thought about asking the question, ‘Are we going to church on Wednesday?’ I knew we were going. Even though she was a single parent with many responsibilities, and even after a long day’s work, there was never any question whether we were going to church. What she did for me there is immeasurable.”

Haston also talked about the influence she had on his athletic career. As a parent, Patti never lost her perspective, and that carried over into Kirk’s life. He has grown to appreciate that now as he serves as a volunteer basketball assistant at Perry County High, where he is still a central Tennessee legend for having led the school to a state championship in 1997. He also is the school corporation’s health program coordinator.

“I pray I’m as good a parent to Kenner as my mom was to me,” Kirk said. “I can’t believe how some parents talk to their kids during games. It’s so painful to hear. My mom had that mentality that you work your butt off, but when the game comes you let ’er rip. I’m glad I had that environment.”
Knight saw it in him
Throughout Haston’s red-shirt year and freshman year, Knight kept waiting for him to “let ’er rip.” Losing losing his mother so unexpectedly seemed to unleash that side of him. He averaged 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds his sophomore year. Playing for Mike Davis his junior year, Haston led the Big Ten in scoring at 19 points and was named a third team All-American.

“Coach Knight was always pushing me to be tougher,” Haston said. “He said, ‘I know you’ve got toughness in you. No one can raise a child while keeping a job like your mom did.’ That was one of the great pieces of encouragement I got after Mom passed away.”

Drafted 16th overall by the Charlotte Hornets, Haston’s pro career ended after five injury-riddled seasons. In 2005 he married Kasey Foster, a homecoming queen from Freed-Hardeman University in Tennessee, the same Christian school where his mom was a homecoming queen her senior year. Last August the Hastons celebrated the birth of Kenner, named after a line of superhero toys that always fascinated Kirk.

“I guess I’m kind of a geek that way,” he said.

Now that he has a child of his own, Haston is trying to be the parent his mother was. As a single mother and an only child, they were inseparable. Haston’s father was never much a part of their lives.

“I just remember all the time Mom and I spent together,” Haston said. ‘The last day of school every year, we would always go to the movies. We went on vacations every year. She was always creative even if we didn’t have the means.”

Patti would have surely doted on her first grandchild, so Kirk was quick to visit her grave following Kenner’s birth.

“I gave her the rundown — the height, weight, everything,” he said.

The day has now arrived for Kenner to join his father on one of those visits.

“I think it would be neat telling him about the first time I took him out to where Gram’ was buried,” Haston said a few days before the 10th anniversary of her death. “I think it should be the anniversary of something big. I guess May 6th is that day.”


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Rena Ball said...

Thanks! Glad that you like it!

Anonymous said...

Always wondered what happened to his father. I knew him but never heard what happened to him, Thanks

Rena Ball said...

Glad that I could help!