NEW CASTLE —
His infectious smile can light up a room, but five years ago, Levar Ware was living in darkness.
Except for his mother, concerned educators and a local attorney, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior who helped New Castle High capture its first state basketball title last month might not even have been on the team.
Ware has long been an intimidating presence, even in junior high, and never hesitated using size to his advantage.
“I didn’t like being told what to do then,” said Ware, who became more defiant with each passing day.
Growing up without a father can do that to a boy, even when there is a God-fearing mother doing all she can to raise him right.
“He was a kid who was in trouble all the time,” said Ralph Blundo, an assistant principal at New Castle High and the Canes’ head basketball coach. “Levar was sent to my office a lot. He was a mountain of a man, but he was just a boy.”
Because of his behavior, Levar was in and out of alternative education through ninth grade. He had a wrap-around schedule, going to school for a half day.
“That’s all he could handle,” Blundo said.
“About age 12 he started becoming rebellious,” said his mom, Dalynne Ware, a former track and basketball star who graduated from New Castle High in 1991. “He was angry and wasn’t communicating with me. There were things going on that I just couldn’t handle. He stormed out one time and was gone for a few days.
She thought it might help for him to be with his father.
It was a decision she would later regret.
The 2009-10 school year turned out to be a lost one for Levar.
Moving in with his dad in Wheeling, W.Va., Levar had to share space in a small house that included his father’s girlfriend and three other siblings. Levar and two step-brothers lived in the attic. With only one bed among them, Levar slept on the floor. The only light came from a flickering television screen.
“You don’t know how cold an attic can be in the winter,” Levar said. “Or how hot in the summer.”
They weren’t ideal conditions for anyone, let alone a young man looking for his identity. There was no pressure to go to school, so he didn’t. Levar missed 89 days, opting to stay home and sleep. When he did go to class, he would nod off there.
“I just didn’t care about school,” Levar said. “It wasn’t important to me.”
Levar Ware was headed for trouble and knew it.
His “friends” were into some bad things, like drugs and stealing, and Levar was slowly being drawn in.
His father had spent time in jail, and it appeared Levar might follow the path of a man he never really knew.
When Dalynne contacted the school, she learned of the dire situation. She contacted Levar’s father and told him she was coming to get their son.
Levar didn’t object.
“He wanted the change,” Dalynne said. “He knew he was going downhill.”