With love and support from the Duggans, Skipper refuses to fail
Norwich — Tuzar Skipper sat sipping an iced coffee a few days ago now, awash in blissful moments of reflection and appreciation, about all the good that has come from this lifetime of pain, failures and disappointments.
His words: "I was born to lose. All the moving. Foster home to foster home to group home to group home. I could have given up at any time. But I knew the life I wanted."
It's now the life he has. Blessed and exciting. Tuzar Skipper, a graduate of Norwich Free Academy, a product of unconditional love from a Norwich family, is the newest Pittsburgh Steeler. Indeed, he finished his coffee and was headed to Pittsburgh for OTAs (Organized Team Activities), a young man who had every excuse to fail ... and happily ignored them.
Three different high schools, two different middle schools, three different elementary schools. Parents, now deceased, who could never retain custody of him. Group homes. Foster homes. Yearns for a life with love and stability.
And then the universe sent him Tim and Kathy Duggan.
"Ultimately," Kathy Duggan said, "the inspiration to invite Tuzar into our family was so simple. We had two empty bedrooms and he needed one. It was just the right thing to do."
The Duggans live near NFA and went to a game one night in 2013. They had seen him play for the Wildcats and dominate, but for some reason wasn't playing that night. They learned he was being disciplined for an incident at his group home.
"He was living a mile away from us," Kathy said. "We had to do something. We talked to our sons and they were on board from the first discussion."
More from Kathy Duggan:
"I started making phone calls to DCF to find out how one goes about inviting an 18-year-old to live in their home. Not easy," she said. "Even getting a phone call returned took some pretty aggressive behavior on my part. Tim and I decided that if we were going to do this, we were going to be in it forever — if that is what Tuzar wanted. We were not going to be another group of adults that failed him.
"We were going to let Tuzar decide what this relationship was — a warm place to eat/sleep until he graduated or a family — and we wanted him to have a voice in his life. I imagine that being in the foster system meant that decisions were usually being made for him but not by him. We wanted him to know he could start making choices that affected his whole life."
They invited him to dinner one night — fancy and formal in the dining room. The next time was King Wah Chinese on the living room floor. That's when Skipper knew. Soon, the Duggans added their third son.
"There were many bumps along the way as you can imagine," Kathy Duggan said. "But giving up on Tuzar was never an option."
And so Skipper played junior college football at Monroe in New Rochelle, N.Y. and then at Toledo (he still wears his Mid-American Conference championship ring). The Duggans never missed a game. How fitting that Tuzar Skipper learned he made the Steelers on Mother's Day of this year.
"I was coming back from (Steelers) practice praying I made the team. It was my third camp. My patience was running out," Skipper said. "I got the good news finally. I heard, 'We're going to sign you.' One happiest moments of my life. I finally made it to the NFL. I wanted to share it with Kathy first."
Kathy Duggan's Mother's Day present was a Sunday morning FaceTime call from her third son.
After OTAs, there's mini-camp, five weeks off and then training camp in July. He'll be back in Norwich working out with NFA coach Jason Bakoulis, another guiding hand in Skipper's journey.
"Coach Bakoulis (an NFA assistant at the time) took me under his wing," Skipper said. "He said 'as long as you are serious about this, I'll help you every step of the way.' He reminds me all the time to hang around the right people. Always willing to train with me. A big shout out to him."
Turns out that it really does take a village. Especially if the village is filled with people who understand the timeless theory that the needs of the world are too big for us to be living such small lives.
"I come from nothing, really. Growing up was a struggle. I didn't want that in my life anymore," Skipper said. "When I have kids, I don't want them struggling how I struggled. I want them to face different challenges."
And lest we think that the Duggans "saved" Tuzar Skipper, they are here to remind us otherwise.
"We started by trying to help this young man out, but we ended up finding the child that we didn't know we needed to complete our family," Kathy Duggan said. "We have learned so much by having him in our life. He is truly a gift. We have benefited as much, if not more than Tuzar. He has changed our life too."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro