by Scott Kindberg
December 25, 2018
Gift Of Hope
Keep in mind that Bryan, a 2005 Jamestown High School graduate, has been pretty busy this month, occupying a front-row seat to one of college basketball’s most compelling programs. An assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the nationally-ranked University at Buffalo men’s team, Bryan helped the Bulls race to 11 straight wins and climb to No. 14 in the polls before losing at No. 20 Marquette on Friday night.
Yet in the midst of that feel-good story, Bryan isn’t interested in tooting his own horn or discussing how his recruiting efforts have helped lead to victories over perennial powers like Arizona, West Virginia and Syracuse in the last nine months. Yes, he’s quite proud of the trajectory the Bulls have been on since his arrival on the Amherst campus for the 2015-16 season, but he also feels compelled to get the message out about something that has impacted his life even more than hoops.
“I just don’t know,” he said last week from his hotel room in Syracuse, hours before the Bulls took on the Orange at the Carrier Dome, “if any of that would have happened without me being adopted into the family that I was, because of the values they instilled in me. … I’ll be honest with you, when I sent you that text, my whole childhood was brought back to life.”
No one could possibly believe the journey.
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Rebecca Hodgson needed to get to work, but Bryan, 31, needed his adoptive mom to help fill in the gaps in a portion of his life story more. So she joined a conference call with her son and a sportswriter last week, because if Bryan’s goal is to bring “major awareness” to the fostering and adoption process, then there is no one more qualified to speak on those subjects than Rebecca.
During a 13-year span, Rebecca and her husband, Larry, had 112 children in and out of their home — some for a only a few days, some for much longer and still others permanently.
“Essentially my husband and I started fostering and adopting simply because I was a foster child (growing up) and I wanted to give back, because I had such a wonderful experience for my foster care,” Rebecca said. “We adopted three children basically because those were the three presented with us who were able to stay permanently. All the others were returned to the families of origin.”
“We feel totally blessed by God to have had these children in our home, every last one of them,” Rebecca added. “The Bible tells us that children are our reward on earth. The more you get, the better off you are. … The hope we were able to give the children was something they could take with them to the next place.”
As it turned out, Bryan eventually became one of those 112 foster kids.
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Bryan was born in 1987 at Olean General Hospital. His biological mother was 15. His biological father was not in the picture.
“To her credit, she did try to raise me,” Bryan said. “She also tried to go to school and (graduate).”
Challenging situations, however, eventually turned to a dire one, which is why Bryan — all of 18 months old at the time — was ultimately placed with the Hodgsons.
“(My biological mom) was dating an older guy,” Bryan recalled. “She had a program where teenage mothers could bring their child to school with them and still get their diploma. Well, one day, I was sick or had a fever and she left me home with her boyfriend at the time. To put it in simple terms, he was not a good guy.”
So when Bryan became fussy that day and went on an extended crying jag, the boyfriend’s response was to “pick me up at 1 years old and set me on a burning wood stove in my diaper. I had third-degree burns all the way down the upper part of my legs. I was put in foster care immediately.”
Enter Larry and Rebecca, who lived in nearby Bolivar.
“He came to our house wrapped in a blanket, burned and in slippers,” Rebecca said. “That’s all he had.”
Fortunately, he would receive so much more. After 18 months as their foster child, the Hodgsons adopted Bryan.
“I always joke with them that I must have been a No. 1 draft pick and they signed me to a long-term contract,” Hodgson said, noting that his biological mother did “100 percent the right thing by signing off on me being adopted.”
“She chose to present me, because she knew it would be a better life for me, given her circumstances, age and financial situation,” he added. “I still have a relationship with her. We don’t talk as much as we used to — we have had some differences along the way — but we do have a relationship.”
The youngest of Larry and Rebecca’s seven children — three of them are adopted — Bryan recognizes how lucky he was when social services came to his rescue 30 years ago.
“One thing I can tell you about my parents is they never said no,” he said. “I think it started with my mother. She has the biggest heart in the world. If social services was called (seeking a placement), she didn’t say no. It got to the point where my father didn’t have a choice. We had a huge home, with six or seven bedrooms. As long as we weren’t full and there was a kid in need, they were going to say yes.”
The Hodgsons moved from Bolivar to Jamestown heading into Bryan’s seventh-grade year after Larry took a job with Truck Lite. Bryan eventually played basketball while attending Jamestown High School; he did the same at Jamestown Community College; and was intending to continue his hardwood career at SUNY Fredonia.
“I walked into (Coach) Kevin Moore’s office and was going to join the team, but I was too late,” Bryan said. “He told me, ‘If you want to be a part of it, I’ll bring you on as a student-assistant, you can help me and I’ll help you learn about coaching a little bit.'”
Armed with that knowledge, Bryan ultimately returned to Jamestown CC and became an assistant coach on Mike Cordovano’s staff (2010-2013); made the bold move to take a volunteer assistant position at Midland (Texas) CC, which turned into a paid position the following season; and then made a connection with Nate Oats, who was then an assistant coach for Bobby Hurley at UB. When Hurley left for Arizona State after the 2014-15 season, Oats became the Bulls’ head coach and he brought Hodson on board as an assistant.
“I had such a love for the game that I wasn’t going to give up,” Bryan said. “I kept telling myself that if I didn’t reach the Division I level by 30 that I would get out and find another position. … I was fortunate to get this job at 26. I learned from my parents to follow what you’re passionate about, don’t let anyone get in your way and tell you that you can’t do it.”
Following that first season at UB, Bryan was one of 30 assistant coaches named to the Under Armour 30-under-30 Team by the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Not coincidentally, since he joined Oats’ staff, the Bulls have made two NCAA Tournament appearances in three years.
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Perseverance, overcoming long odds and never giving up has been part of the Hodgson family for generations. Bryan’s paternal grandfather, John, was a top turret gunner and engineer in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was shot down over Belgium on May 11, 1944. He was 19 years old.
“My grandfather parachuted out and his whole body was on fire,” Bryan said. “The German soldiers put a white blanket over his body, pronounced him dead and they were going to bury him. Another American soldier ran over to him and shook him until he woke up. It was the only thing that saved his life. He was a POW for 362 days. When he was liberated on May 9, 1945, he weighed 87 pounds.”
John Hodgson was awarded a Purple Heart.
That family history of sacrifice hasn’t been lost on Bryan, who has used it in his role as one of college basketball’s best recruiters.
“My childhood and my situation — being a foster child, being raised by an orphan mother and a son of a World War II prisoner-of-war — developed me to be a relationship person,” Bryan said. “I think that’s the biggest thing in recruiting. It’s nothing else. It’s about being able to tell people you genuinely care about them.”
Bryan also knows where many of those recruits are coming from, because, “If you want to talk about rough childhoods and trust, I (understand).”
In the hours leading up to Buffalo’s game against Jim Boeheim’s Orange, Bryan admitted that he felt as if he was the owner of a winning lottery ticket, which he was figuratively gifted three decades ago upon being fostered by Larry and Rebecca.
“I really do,” he said. “It could have gone a lot of different ways. Instead, I’m in a hotel room about to play Syracuse and I’m getting a little choked up.”
Just before the opening tip, Bryan, as he does before every game, planned to say a prayer.
“I don’t ask for anything,” he said. “I basically say ‘thanks,’ because I’m blessed in every sense of the word.”
Rebecca and Larry are blessed, too.
“We’re extremely proud of Bryan,” Rebecca said. “… Look at him now.”