Josh Harvey-Clemons and the Role of Grandparents Everywhere

Josh Harvey-Clemons, the No. 2 outside linebacker prospect in the nation, and the No. 1 overall prospect in Georgia could have his pick of colleges to choose from when he graduates high school this year.

The 17-year-old, 6-foot-five, 200-pound senior, from Valdosta -- down in south Georgia -- finished the 2011 season as the Region 1-AAAAA defensive player of the year, while also being named to the first National All-State team.

But this talented teen has narrowed his choices to three schools. So, for the next few days, head coaches Mark Richt at the University of Georgia, Will Muschamp at Florida and Jimbo Fisher at Florida State will be suffering some anxiety as February 1, National Signing Day, approaches. [Update: Josh signed with the Georgia Bulldogs.]

In the world of college football in the South (it’s a religion down here if you didn’t already know) these are three very big, powerful and influential men.

There are, however, bigger, more powerful people in Josh’s life who are going to have more influence over where the boy goes to school than anyone.

And that would be Woodrow Clemons, his grandfather and Vanessa Clemons his grandmother.  Together, this family and their community took on the statistics that show that grandparents, as primary care givers, are a risk factor to a child’s wellbeing.

When both of Josh’s parents died -- his dad when he was 6 and his mom when he was 12 -- Woodrow and Vanessa took over the parenting and have raised, by all accounts, a fine son.

Woodrow Clemons has instilled a humble spirit as well. Josh told the local press that, “my granddad always taught me to never brag on myself, always let others do it for you.”

Of course he would say that about his grandpa. But what do others around Valdosta say? I made a few calls and eventually got through to Coach Terry Quinn, defensive coordinator at Lowndes High School’s Viking football team.

“One or both grandparents attended all of Josh’s football games, home and away,” said Quinn. “Josh also played basketball for four years and ran track for three years. His grandparents were there.”

That’s some dedication, especially when you consider that Josh’s grandmother is an elementary school teacher and Josh’s grandfather runs a bail bond business. Both are working, all the time.

And it’s not just sports where they have helped out. His grandparents have obviously instilled in Josh a desire for excellence, an intense work ethic and commitment to the importance of education. He’s a solid 3.0 student.

Josh Harvey Clemons is just one of 1.7 million children in the United States being raised by a grandparent.

Woodrow and Vanessa might make it sound routine, but raising a grandchild isn’t as easy as sacking a quarterback when his pocket has collapse.

My best friend is Margo raising her grandson. He is the light of her life, but she is 60 and, well... try keeping up with a teenager when you are 60.

Mitchell is 15 and like most 15 year olds, peer acceptance and his busy social calendar can present challenges to whoever is looking after him. The importance of education is paramount, so Mitchell attends a better high school which is not in his neighborhood.  If he misses the bus, guess who takes him to school?  He’s a track star, so guess who attends the track meets?  Since he is mischievous, like most adolescent boys, guess who mediates all of his conflicts?

Some evenings I call my friend just to check in. The other night I rang her, knowing she had worked all day. It was already nine p.m., and she told me she had to pick up Mitchell at 11 p.m.

Now that may be par for the course when you are in your 30s or even 40s, but when you are 60 it is a herculean effort.

Most grandparents are not raising their grandchildren because that is what they choose to do in their golden years. Every grandparent does not score the winning touchdowns like Margo and the Clemons. There are fumbles, interceptions and personal fouls. In most cases something happened to change their status from grandparent to primary caretaker. Death, incarceration, drug abuse, abandonment, poverty and divorce lead the list.

I discussed this growing parenting phenomenon with another women whose mother raised her sister’s children because her sister was on drugs. She shared with me that, “Momma let them get away with so much; partly because she felt guilty about her daughter abandoning her children for drugs, and partly because Momma was sick herself. She just didn’t have the energy.”

Three million children in the United States do not live with their parents. Fifty four percent of these children live with grandparents. The dialogue, resources and support for grandparents raising grandchildren is splintered and not reaching many families. A network of services is needed.

Grandparents can access specific resources by state here. Your rights as a grandparent and advice on issues ranging from the law to finances are available from many sources including The AARP’s Grand Families guide also provides comprehensive information for grandparents grappling with this monumental life change.

I applaud grandparents like the Clemons and Margos who raise their grandchildren and give them as much love, commitment and support as they can.

They do it -- just like most grandparents -- because they wouldn’t have it any other way.

It can, to say the least, be a tough road for someone getting on in age.

The African Proverb, “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child,” speaks to the importance of connecting family and community to help protect, guide and raise healthy children, including awesome outside linebackers.