TOPEKA — Jordyn Bontrager never dreamed about catching chickens as a job and shooting baskets at an Amish schoolhouse.
And for a time in his life, he never thought he'd have many dreams to shoot for and catch. He does now.
Born 18 years ago to black man and white woman and for the most part abandoned by both, Bontrager is as admired in his new community for his resolve and people skills as he is revered for his smooth basketball talents.
A young man who lived in Elkhart through the sixth grade and helped Pinewood Elementary win the city tournament is now the team leader at Westview High School and one victory away from an IHSAA state 2A championship.
"The first couple of days, it was a really scary ... a black kid from Elkhart coming into a school with a bunch of Amish kids who are so not you," Bontrager said. "But the kids ... there was no prejudice. They welcomed me, greeted me, all got to know me."
Bontrager lives with maternal grandfather, Duane Bontrager, 61, and his wife of 28 years, LeiLani, north of Shipshewana.
Duane was raised Amish and, like so many in the community, works in an RV plant. LeiLani, 54, is employed by Yoder's Department Store in Shipshewana.
Jordyn's father is Floyd Young, who played 36 games in the NFL with Tampa Bay from 1997-2000. His mother, Crystal, 37, lives in South Bend.
"He pretty much left when I was a baby," Jordyn said. "He was in the NFL and had a lot going on, and once he left, he never really became a big part of my life after that."
Jordyn lived with his mother in Elkhart until the sixth grade. The family moved out to Shipshewana, along with Jordyn's sister, Kambree, but then Crystal moved back to Elkhart. Kambree later joined her.
After his mother left, Jordyn made the decision to stay and live with his grandparents, who are his legal guardians.
"She liked the city better than the country. I still love her and have contact with her," he said, "but not so much with my dad. I don't even consider him my dad. My grandparents are my parents."
Jordyn's transition to his LaGrange County lifestyle was effortless, according to LeiLani.
"He just blended in so fast it was unbelieveable," she said. "At the beginning, I was afraid for him, but some Amish people had him over to spend the night once and from then on he fit in. I don't even think he knows what color he is. He just went with it."
Culture of Change
Jordyn spends time after school doing what his grandfather did as a child — catch chickens as a job. Across the street from his home is Blue Ridge School, an Amish schoolhouse with a basketball rim in the playground.
"Yup, he chases chickens for Middlebury Produce," LeiLani said. "He was so tickled when he found out my husband used to do that as a child. And we didn't have to buy a basketball goal because we had one across the road."
Duane Bontrager said Jordyn became a natural at his job. Duane did the same thing when he was in school and sees the community structure as a factor in Jordyn's growth.
"The owner once told me Jordyn's got the most stamina of anybody's he's ever seen," Duane said. "He goes straight from practice three nights a week."
Because of Westview's run, Jordyn's been excused from weeknight duty, though he continues a Sunday evening shift.
The biggest cultural change, perhaps, was absorbing the hometown fervor created by the basketball program.
Roads leading to the high school filled with cars, trucks and buggies heading to a packed gymnasium on Friday night wasn't something Jordyn could fathom at first.
"When I came here, I didn't know what to expect. ... I never knew what the community was like, and I never knew the community was so involved with basketball," Jordyn said. "It's a major deal. It's amazing. Everyone is so loving, they all care about you. It's just a really easy community to transition from city life to country life."
Jordyn's immersion into new friendships and families extended to basketball, his biggest passion. As a sixth-grader in Elkhart, he met and played against Jamar Weaver and Damon Hershberger, two Warriors who competed in summer AAU games at the Elkhart Sports Center.
When Bontrager landed in the Westview schools the next year, they were among the first students to bring him into the fold.
"I didn't really know him well until he actually came here to school, but we've been friends probably from the first day we met," Hershberger said. "We were playing basketball ... me, Jamar and him. Really, he was just another kid. We're all the same.
"When you're a kid, you go to kids camp, playing AAU ball all summer, fall leagues. ... You spend a lot of time together."
"Once they realized I played basketball, that had a big part with it," Jordyn said. "I think they saw a little bit of potential."
Westview head coach Rob Yoder saw the talent -- as well as Jordyn's easy-going demeanor -- right away.
"He was smaller than the dickens then, but he could dominate the game," Yoder said. "I'm not saying (moving to Westview) was a perfect fit, but the fit was right."
Life and Leadership
At a young age, Jordyn learned to trust quickly and have faith in the people around him on a daily basis — his grandparents, friends, teammates and coaches.
On the court, he's become the acknowledged leader for the Warriors, who will take on Park Tudor Saturday, March 29, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
"His basketball competitiveness has improved a lot," Yoder said. "He has a willingness to lead. He's always been a good teammate and gives up the ball all the time.
"Jordyn learned to play hard. We had to push him to be aggressive offensively. It was not natural to him."
Working hard in life and athletics hasn't been an option for Jordyn. He sees it every day.
"My grandparents, they are the biggest inspirations in my life," Jordyn said. "They go to work every day, they provide for me, they teach me things every day. My grandpa works in a factory and I think he told me hasn't missed a day of work in his life. I know he doesn't like it sometimes, but he goes to work.
"And my grandma, she's kind of a strict grandma sometimes, but honestly, it's for the greater good. They teach me the value of hard work. I wouldn't be the person I am today without them."
And while Jordyn looks to his immediate family for guidance and examples, he also has forged a unique bond with Yoder, who went to court to support his family in custody litigation.
"Rob went to bat for him and wrote the most awesome letter for Jordyn. He's really been there for him," LeilLani said. "He's somebody he can talk to and open up to.
"Sometimes, I have to make him talk, but Coach Yoder has been able to talk to him and open him up."
"Coach Yoder is not just a basketball coach, he's almost like a father figure to me," Jordyn said. "He doesn't just emphasize basketball and working hard on the court, he really emphasizes working hard in the classroom.
"He's a good role model. I couldn't ask for a better coach. He's an amazing human being."
Finding a Home
Jordyn said he's thought about what might have happened to him had he not made some tough choices, choices most children don't have to make.
But given the path of the last six years, Jordyn said he wouldn't change one thing.
"I have no idea where I'd be with the way my mom moved around," Jordyn said. "My other grandma, Eva Howard, she's also been a huge inspiration for me and been there throughout my life.
"Everyone here does what they do. If you're a farmer, you farm. If you're a school kid, you go to school."
Jordyn calls his path to Westview "a blessing."
"It's very humbling, but God's got a plan," Jordyn said. "He puts you where you need to be and puts you in the right situations. I'm glad to be out here.
"They look to my future and I'm not looking back."