Anderson Novalin was in ninth grade when he witnessed the horror of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti on television.
For Novalin, the tragedy was personal.
Haiti was his home country before he moved to York in 2007 with his father, stepmother and two brothers. His mother and family members on both his mother's and father's side remained in Haiti.
They weren't among the estimated 316,000 people who died in the 7.3 magnitude quake, but they were among the one million people who lost their homes.
"Thank God, they're OK," said Novalin, a junior at York High. "But, it destroyed everything they had."
Novalin's former home was reduced to rubble.
"My aunt lived in a two-story building next to my house, and when the building collapsed, it landed on our house. Fortunately my aunt was not at home. She and other family members run a restaurant, and they were leaving the restaurant when the quake hit."
Novalin, a two-sport athlete (football and track and field), thinks often of the many desperate people who are still struggling today in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Along with the grinding poverty, the country has also been racked over the years by violence.
"When I was a small child, I didn't really understand many of the things that were going on," Novalin said. "But, as I got older, I knew that people were being killed because of violence between two different parties. People couldn't go to school because there was fighting."
Novalin is thankful for the opportunity he's been given to obtain an education and participate in school sports in this country. He also practices martial arts.
"I played soccer in Haiti, but it wasn't in a league," he said. "It was just a group of us getting a ball and going out and kicking it. When I first started football, I didn't like it, but I went back because it could help give me an opportunity to go to college and make plans for the future. After I went out for football, the track coach said I should try out for track, and I did."
The 270-pound Novalin, who bench presses 400 pounds, throws the shot and discus for Bearcats. He recently uncorked a York-Adams League best of 50 feet, 8 inches in the shot.
"Practice never ends for him, I have to say that practice is over," York High throwing coach Doug Olson said. "He always says, 'can I throw one more time.'"
Novalin is learning a new technique this season.
"This is my year of trying the spin," he said. "I would usually slide."
During practice on Thursday, Novalin cradled the 12-pound metal ball in his hand, holding it behind his right ear as he stood with his back to the landing area. Following a spin move, which left Novalin facing the landing area, he let the shot go.
"He had a 50-8, 50-5 and also a 48-5, so it (the new technique) is like a see-saw right now," Olson said. "But, this kid could be a county champion and a district qualifier. Actually, I'm sure he'll be disappointed if he isn't."
Olson has been working with Novalin since eighth grade.
"There was a huge language barrier at first," Olson said. "He would say 'yes,' and he didn't know what you said. Now, the only thing he says is 'no,'" said a grinning Olson.
Novalin spoke Creole and French when he arrived in York, but not English.
"I kept speaking it (English) with my brothers (Alex is 19 and Juan is 18), and we watched TV," he said. "In a couple of years, I was comfortable with it (English)."
Novalin is currently learning a fourth language: Spanish. He plans to use that familiarity with multiple languages, plus the knowledge gained in college, to help his native country. Novalin plans to visit Haiti after he graduates from high school, and then return to the United States for college. His goal is to earn an engineering degree.
"I want to reach back and help the people in Haiti," he said. "Maybe I can help in building a factory, which will give them jobs. I want to give people the opportunity to help themselves."
-- Reach Dick VanO linda at dvanolin firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-5407.