It takes a Village: Somerset rallies around student athlete - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

It Takes a Village: Somerset rallies around student athlete

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Somerset (WQOW) – By now, many in the Wisconsin football community know about Somerset's Gaelin Elmore. The senior is a two-time all-state selection and will continue his football career at Minnesota in the fall. But the road that led Elmore to this point was anything but straight.

A fractured family, fighting and foster care: these were the norms for a young Gaelin Elmore.

"That was life for me. Couldn't get any better, couldn't get any worse. I didn't know," says Elmore.

Even at age 12, Gaelin was built like a tank and the gangs in Peoria, Illinois wanted to turn him into a weapon.

"If you don't have friends, if you don't have people in your circle, you are a target."

George Elmore moved his son from the hostility of Peoria to the relative calm of Hudson. But Gaelin struggled to bridge the gap between cultures.

"Instead of having to defend yourself on the first day of school, you have to open up and venture out and try to gain friends," adds Elmore. "It's nothing I've ever experienced before."

To the rescue came a bouncing ball and the concept of team. At age 13, he joined an AAU squad coached by Jay Emmert of Somerset.

"He ended up starting to stay with on the weekend; we'd go to the tournaments and bring him back Sunday night. I went to bring him back to the place where he'd been all year and he said 'No, we're staying at this other place now'." says Emmert. "He went walking up, and he just looked defeated. His shoulders were slumped over and it looked like this wasn't the place that he wanted to go."

Emmert rallied others in the community to provide Gaelin and his dad with a place to live in Somerset.

"I went and picked him up the next morning and he comes out with all of his stuff. One suitcase and one tote," says Emmert.

Like a flower seeing the sun for the first time, Gaelin grew exponentially in his new community.

"It was refreshing to just live and not have to worry about much and just be a kid and have fun," says Elmore.

But a year later, trouble came knocking at the door. George Elmore turned the knob.

"He was gone for three days and I didn't panic. He's done this before, he'll be back," says Elmore. "They called me down to the office and said your dad is incarcerated. You don't have a parent at this point."

Facing three felony charges, George's one phone call was used – not to help his legal case – but to ensure his son would be taken care of.

"When George was going to be away for a little while, yeah, it was time for somebody to step up," says Emmert.

George turned over parental custody to football coach Bruce Larson.

"I think when you're both in education, you have a love for kids and you want to see kids do well. That's why you get into it," says Larson. "And if that's how you look at things, it's a no-brainer, isn't it?   It's not easy, but at the same time, I think you look at it -- it's worth it."

"Coach Larsen came down, he told me without question -- We'll take care of you. We'll figure this out; you don't have to worry about anything," says Elmore. "That was kind of the first time that happened." 

From there, Gaelin's new family settled into a routine and success followed. In the classroom he earned high honors. On the field, Gaelin became a division one football recruit.

"Just having a family. I haven't had many experiences where I had a family bigger than two. That's the most I've been with in 10 years," says Elmore.

But in Gaelin's world, calm waters just means the next storm is on its way. 

"It always seems like everything is going well, nothing bad has happened in awhile. Something bad has to happen. It's almost like I'm waiting for it. It's expected at this point," adds Elmore.

And the expected became reality. On January 12th, George Elmore was arrested once again. With his record, a conviction could mean a lengthy stay behind bars. 

"There is definitely some challenging times where it's like I don't know how much more I can do it. I try to keep it to a minimum of what other people see of that," says Elmore.

"He's the type of guy who says 'Ok, that's the cards I've been dealt, then let's play our hand that way.' You still have to compete, you still have to win, you still have to survive, you still have to make it," says Larson.

To make it, Gaelin knows he'll need support – the kind that is a short car ride away. So despite interest from some college football powerhouses, Minnesota is where Gaelin will make his new home.   

"I want them to see that the time they put in to help me get to where I am isn't being wasted. That I'm making the most of it.," says Elmore.

It took a village to raise Gaelin Elmore. Now what kind of man he becomes is up to him.

"A happy ending to me, would be going to the University of Minnesota and watching him graduate with a degree. 10-12-15 years down the line, it'd be nice to see him and his family and see him providing what he didn't always have," says Larson. "And if that happens, than everything he did becomes worth its weight in gold."

 

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