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Family, Foster Care and Football

For CAC head football coach Tommy Shoemaker, calling football season “busy” is an understatement. Each fall, his evenings are spent practicing with his team, traveling near and far to play under the stadium lights, and putting in additional planning hours on the weekend. Add attending family and church activities to the mix, and Shoemaker has a packed calendar.

Although CAC’s football team takes Tommy away from home after school, evenings, and weekends, there’s another team awaiting him when he is finished with the Mustangs. Not only does Tommy have a wife, Debbie, and children, Leigh (11th grade), Abby (9th grade) and Cole (6th grade), but since 2011, his family has also welcomed around a dozen foster children into their lives.

Shoemaker Family Photo

Tommy said he and Debbie first considered foster care after being encouraged to do so by their church family at Pleasant Valley Church of Christ. With three children of their own, however, Tommy said they were hesitant to commit.

“Our kids were a little older, and we thought it would be something good we could do as a family,” Tommy said, “But it’s one of those things you look at, and you realize it’s going to change the dynamics of your family quite a bit. The biggest thing was that we didn’t want to take away from our kids becoming teenagers. We didn’t want to take away from our parenting them to parent other children.”

They were finally convinced to take the plunge in 2011 after Leigh and Abby wrote a letter to their parents listing all the reasons their family should do foster care. Abby said seeing their family friends with their foster siblings played a large part in encouraging Leigh and her to write the letter.

“They loved them so much,” Abby said, “I just thought, we have so much love to give, and giving it to the kids that have nothing — no family — we could just give them our love. So we wrote a letter saying all the good reasons we could do it.”

With the support of their children, Tommy and Debbie began foster parent training and took in their first foster child soon after the end of football season that year. The original plan, Tommy said, was to only foster children in the off-season. This year, however, the Shoemakers are balancing football and caring for twin two-year-olds, Kadie and Bentley.

Between football games, getting the girls to cheerleading, Cole to 6th grade football practice and caring for the twins, Tommy admits football season is a chaotic time for their family. But Tommy credits Debbie with making it all work.

“One of the biggest rewards is our children being exposed to serving other people, and learning that you have to get out of your comfort zone to do that.” – Tommy Shoemaker

“I’m pretty useless during football,” Tommy said. “It’s always been that way, even with our own kids. That’s just part of our family dynamic. Our kids pitch in a lot and they are very helpful, but my wife is the one who keeps everything running.”

Abby said she and her siblings often help out by babysitting the twins and taking care of her foster siblings at times when things get hectic. For Tommy, the role his children have played, and their willingness to serve, is invaluable.

“One of the biggest rewards is our children being exposed to serving other people, and learning that you have to get out of your comfort zone to do that,” Tommy said. “That’s what service is about. We looked at this as, ‘we’re not missionaries, I’m not a preacher, this is our way of serving God.’ So hopefully our children have, whatever inconveniences, whatever it has been for our family — hopefully they have seen and learned to care for others who can’t care for themselves.”

While Abby admits sharing her parents’ attention is sometimes challenging, she said seeing the situations these children come from, and bonding with the kids as siblings, has helped her realize how truly fortunate she is.

“I’ve seen how blessed I am because they come from such bad homes,” Abby said. “I’ve seen how blessed I am with my family.”