Jan. 1, 2000
By BEN WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Mark Richt was in the middle of explaining how Florida
State blocks out blitzes when 2-year-old Anya and 3-year-old Zach blindsided
No matter that huge players kept wandering into their path. The two
youngsters wobbled down the Superdome sideline, headed straight for their
unsuspecting dad and hugged his legs. Holding on like they would never let go.
Having traveled so far in life to get there, who could blame them?
In a season that has seen the No. 1 Seminoles reach the Sugar Bowl for
Tuesday night’s matchup against No. 2 Virginia Tech, the true reward for the
families of two Florida State coaches has come off the field.
Richt, the offensive coordinator, and his wife, Katharyn, adopted Anya and
Zach from Ukraine. Dave Van Halanger, the strength and conditioning coach, and
his wife, Michele, are in the process of adopting 13- and 8-year-old boys and
an 11-year-old girl in Florida.
“It’s an experience we share,” Richt said. “Before they went through with
it, Dave asked me, `Will I be able to love these children like my own?’ I told
him he would, and he does.”
Said Van Halanger: “We already had three kids and I wasn’t ready to change
my life. But then I saw a tape from a TV show at home and these three children
said, `We just want a family that will love us and won’t beat us up.’ ”
Both deeply religious, the coaches are running partners in Tallahassee.
Their adopted children, however, arrived in much different ways.
The Richts discovered the far-away orphanage through church friends, and
Katharyn left in early July. She wound up spending nearly a month in Ukraine
working through the bureaucracy, and Mark joined her for about 10 days.
“I knew this was something we wanted to do,” she said. “But as I was
leaving Mark for the trip, I did think, `What am I doing?’ I just had to trust
that the Lord would show me the way.”
Katharyn saw Zach soon after getting to Crimea, near the Black Sea. He had
been left at two months old, found wrapped in a blanket inside an apartment.
Anya was abandoned in a maternity ward, possibly because of a birth defect –
the right side of her face is disfigured.
“We’re going to have to find out what’s causing that deformity,” Richt
said Saturday. “It’s not a tumor, but it’s some sort of growth.
“We had a feeling Anya would not be taken because of that problem. We
thought that if we didn’t take her, maybe nobody would.”
To Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden, that’s characteristic of Richt, a
former backup quarterback to Jim Kelly at the University of Miami.
“Doesn’t surprise me he’d go as far as he has,” Bowden said. “He’s out to
save the children.”
Richt, whose father once fostered seven children in his home, and his wife
returned to the United States in August. That’s when the two toddlers met the
couple’s children, 9-year-old Jonathan and 5-year-old David.
Zach had an early mishap, breaking his right leg while playing and winding
up in a body cast. Because he only understood Russian then, an interpreter was
found to explain he wasn’t being disciplined.
More recently, Anya got scared by Christmas lights. Her fears calmed, she
enjoyed a joyful holiday with her new family.
The Richts’ road this summer got Michele Van Halanger thinking about
adopting in Ukraine, too. Then came the television show that showed three
Florida children in need.
With 19-year-old Julie, 15-year-old Danielle and 9-year-old Matt at home,
the couple realized it would not be easy to make room for Jonathan (13),
Natasha (11) and William (8).
“We know there will have to be sacrifices all around,” Van Halanger said.
“But I think it will make us closer as a family.”
Jonathan, though, had to make one adjustment.
“When I first met him, I was told he was a University of Florida fan,” Van
Halanger said, smiling. “So I told him that if we adopted him, there would be
one condition – he had to root for the Seminoles. He said, `I promise, I’ll be
for the Seminoles forever.’ ”
Van Halanger hopes his adoptions will be finalized in a month. Until then,
the children are not permitted to cross state lines.
Anya and Zach, however, were dressed in Seminoles outfits during playtime at
the Superdome. They spent part of the day in a stroller, wheeled around by the
Richts’ other two children, along with Matt Van Halanger.
From a distance, Matt’s father watched.
“It’s all working out very well,” he said.