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Janesville Parker grad turns around troubled past

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
June 13, 2009
— When LaVell Hewlett Jr. came to Parker High School three years ago, he was a skinny kid with a troubled past.

Today, he’s a confident, cheerful, respected student, a leader who has set his sights on a college degree.


Who’s to say what caused the change? A loving family? A coach who believed in him? Certainly. But some believe Hewlett’s dedication to weight lifting played a part.


Hewlett, 17, graduated Friday with the rest of the Parker High School Class of 2009. He is the son of Tresa and Lavell Hewlett Sr. of Janesville. His parents are divorced, but they work as a team to raise their children, and LaVell Jr. is close to both.


LaVell’s troubles began in middle school in Beloit, when his mom found out he’d been shoplifting candy and selling it to classmates, he said.


He was hanging with a bad crowd and was disrespectful to teachers, LaVell recalled.


Mom moved the family to La Crosse, in part to remove LaVell from bad influences. But he had problems in a new town. He had a short temper, he said. He fought, sometimes because another student used the “N” word.


He got into basketball as he entered high school and stopped fighting. But he skipped school and smoked cigarettes, he said. His grades remained poor.


The family moved to Janesville the next summer. On a visit to Parker over the summer, he ran into Joe Dye, the football and track coach.


Dye showed them around the school and got LaVell interested in football, which meant lifting weights over the summer.


“He told me if I was a knucklehead, he didn’t want me here,” LaVell recalled, smiling.


Lifting has become a constant for LaVell. He’s so good at it that he was chosen recently to demonstrate the football weight routine for a video to teach incoming freshmen.


LaVell’s father believes lifting reduces stress and anger. All LaVell knows is that he’s more focused, and he laughs at things that used to upset him.


He credits family and his coach for their positive influence.


His dad would stay up late after football games when LaVell couldn’t sleep and talk to him for hours, LaVell said.


“We’re real close, me and my dad.”


His relationship with Dye deepened, too.


“Coach Dye and me have been real close,” he said. “I can talk to him about anything.”


Dye told him he could go far.


“It really motivated me to stay on track.”


Dye sees it differently: “I think the real credit goes to him and certainly his family. And I know his grandparents are a huge part of his life.”


But Dye sees sports as a factor, too: “When LaVell’s body started to change, he got excited more and more about what he was doing.”


With the strength came confidence, which helped LaVell face up to challenges off the field, Dye said.


“I couldn’t be more proud of LaVell because of what he has done as a person,” Dye said.


That includes his leadership at school. Last fall, LaVell was in the cafeteria when a fight broke out.


“He steps into the middle of it and strives to resolve it. Isn’t that what we want our young people to become?” Dye said.


LaVell also is known for helping younger students, especially in a support group for black students known as BRO.


“I just seem to click with a lot of the underclassmen,” LaVell said.


Race is not a big issue at Parker, but black students still need support, he said.


Shelton Evans, who advises the BRO program, said LaVell always is positive.


“He has a heart of gold, always trying to help somebody,” Evans said.


“A lot of people didn’t believe in LaVell,” Evans added. “But he believed in himself, and that’s what mattered.”



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