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Tony Rossi

Radio Host/Producer

February 19

ESPN Producer Responds to God’s Voice

The wrestling team at Cleveland, Ohio’s Lincoln-West High School was bad. So when assistant coach Torry Robinson heard what he believed to be God’s voice telling him, “Your champion is upstairs,” he went upstairs. There, he found African American student Dartanyon Crockett and recruited him immediately. With a natural aptitude for wrestling, Dartanyon started earning small victories. That’s why it came as a shock when everyone discovered that he was legally blind due to several congenital conditions.

A wrestling team with a blind student was already unique. Then, Leroy Sutton entered the picture. At age 11, Leroy lost both his legs when he was hit by a freight train. After his recovery, he took up wrestling because it’s a sport in which amputees can find success. When he transferred to Lincoln-West, he joined their team. For both Dartanyon and Leroy, it was a way to have other people look at them as competitors and equals instead of young men to be pitied.

A bond soon developed between the two, especially as they were heading to a match in which there was no wheelchair-accessible way to get onto the team bus. Dartanyon told Leroy, “Just get on my back and I’ll carry you.” And Leroy did. From then on, Dartanyon carried Leroy wherever he needed to go. The story of their friendship spread, and found its way to ESPN producer Lisa Fenn, who saw her job as a ministry. Every day, she would say, “Lord, use me where You can.” This was one of the times He did.

Fenn discovered that Leroy’s drug-addicted mother couldn’t handle his disability, so she often abandoned him and his younger sister for long stretches of time. She also learned that Dartanyon’s mother died when he was eight, his father struggled with addiction issues, and he stayed with friends and family because he didn’t have a place to call home. And after every match, Dartanyon would point at the sky and dedicate his win to his mom.

During a “Christopher Closeup” interview about her book “Carry On: A Story of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family,” Fenn recalled, “After his last match, he pointed at the sky, and I sensed this voice of God in my heart saying, ‘Take care of my son.’ It was powerful.”

Fenn shot Dartanyon and Leroy’s story over five months, and they all grew closer. She was “heartbroken by the depth of need in their life,” especially since they had big dreams: Dartanyon of going to law school, and Leroy of being a video game designer. And they both wanted to go to college, but had no idea of how to accomplish that in light of their poverty and academic deficiencies.

ESPN viewers donated enough money to get the teens to college. But that didn’t result in the happy ending everyone had hoped for. Fenn now realizes that Dartanyon and Leroy didn’t have the life skills to handle it, so she took it upon herself to navigate them through everything.

Over time, Fenn and her husband wound up “absorbing [the teens] into our family,” which they see as a spiritual adoption. They also adopted an African American infant from Cleveland so he could grow up with family bonds he would have otherwise missed. Fenn concluded, “It’s beautiful how God has knit our family together...Where we once thought family was having two kids and a dog, we now see that family is what just keeps growing when you open yourself up to what the Lord has for you.”