A community loses its champion in killing of Victor McClinton

The Pasadena man who was shot in front of his house Christmas Day built a sports program that gave opportunities to thousands of local children.

The people of these worn, winding Pasadena streets still aren't sure exactly who he is, this kid whose bullet tore through their community's soul on Christmas morning, leaving them with an emptiness felt from the faded bungalows of Garfield Avenue to the mansions of Linda Vista.

But they are absolutely certain who he is not.

The kid who killed Victor McClinton in his front yard just steps from his glittering Christmas tree shortly after his Christmas breakfast never, ever played in a sports league run by Victor McClinton.

This would not have been the uncoordinated child who was so unbowed, McClinton once devised a special play to allow him to score a touchdown from his position on the offensive line. This would not have been the shy child whose basketball coach was confronted at halftime by McClinton with orders to get him the ball, again and again, until he finally experienced the joy of making a shot.

This would not have been a child whose team finished in last place, because every child on every team in every McClinton league received the exact same size trophy every season. This would also not have been one of his league's stars, because McClinton did not allow them to act like stars, every kid forced to pass the ball, hand it off, give it up, help the helpless, share the glory, build the community.

There is no way that whoever gunned down Victor McClinton in the middle of his neighborhood, at the height of his influence, on one of the holiest of days, was one of the thousands of children that McClinton molded with the express purpose of rendering them incapable of such horror.

"It is beyond all irony that Victor built his sports program so what happened to him would never happen," said Jymm Adams, a longtime friend. "The last person you would think it would happen to, it happened to."

What happened next was also beyond all imagination. While McClinton lay dead in Huntington Hospital on Christmas day, his cellphone rang incessantly until deep into the afternoon. Many of the calls came from numbers that were not in McClinton's phone book. Many of their voices were unfamiliar, their accents diverse, their languages varied. Upon hearing the voice of McClinton's close friend Danny Bakewell Jr., many of the callers believed they were speaking to McClinton and demanded an explanation for these silly rumors of his passing.

When the phone finally quieted, Bakewell shook his head in awe at the two realizations that were the fundamentals of this great man's life.

Everyone in Pasadena had Victor McClinton's phone number. Nobody in Pasadena could ever imagine him not answering.

Even if you had never heard of Victor McClinton, if you have had children who play recreational sports, you knew him.

He was the guy pouring chalk powder through an upside-down orange cone on a playground football field on a rainy Saturday morning. He was the guy opening the rusty lock on a church gym and dragging in a bag of balls on a cold Wednesday night. He was the guy who is always there with an extra jersey or juice box or safety pin to hold up your toddler's basketball pants.

"You see a guy at 7 a.m. on a Saturday with an Egg McMuffin in one hand and a clipboard in the other hand and a whistle around his neck, that was Victor," Adams said.

In sports-and-kids-crazy Southern California, there were a million guys like Victor McClinton. But there was nobody like him.

Many parents volunteer in youth sports programs, but McClinton actually started one, the Brotherhood Crusade Youth Sports League, which has served Pasadena-area boys and girls for 18 years. It wasn't his job, as he was a service technician for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

He wasn't much known outside of musty middle school gyms and overgrown park fields. He gave away thousands of trophies but was never honored with one himself.

The 49-year-old lived with his wife and two children on a street of barred doors and broken fences. Outside of his trademark black sweatshirt, blue jeans and Nike Cortez shoes, he was unremarkable and unrecognizable.

But for the last 18 years, Victor McClinton was the richest man in town. Few have touched as many lives, as more than 20,000 kids have come through his program. Few have built a stronger sense of community, as his leagues evolved into the one place where this quietly fractured town could act as one.

The faces on his football, basketball, T-ball and track teams were a multitude of colors. The voices among the lawn chairs and aluminum stands spoke a variety of languages. The school sweatshirts ranged from public elementary to private prep. The cars in the pot-holed parking lots included both shiny Mercedes and rusted Buicks.

McClinton arrived in Pasadena nearly 30 years ago as a skinny guy from South Los Angeles who liked to coach kids. He departed as a king who had brought together a tiny nation, one dribble, one dash, one swing at a time.

CHICAGO

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