Swillings give new ‘brother’ a family of his own
Former New Orleans Saint Pat Swilling knows an athlete when he sees one. But when 13-year-old Bruce Jordan walked into the St. Dominic School gym to try out for his AAU basketball team, Swilling wasn’t aware that this athlete would be a future son as well.
Today a freshman at Brother Martin High School, Jordan is living a dream that would not have been possible had he not walked into the Swillings’ lives on that day.
The Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer, who earned All-Pro honors as part of the Saints linebackers’ “Dome Patrol,” was looking for youngsters with some height for his team, when a business associate walked in with two young prospects. One was Jordan.
“Bruce came in wearing jean shorts and boots,” noted Robin Swilling, Pat’s wife and scout. “He had no basketball attire and didn’t own tennis shoes. He was trying to work out with the team in boots.”
Swilling watched him and saw a promising athlete with exceptional skills. “If he plays basketball in boots, I know what he can do if he had tennis shoes,” he said.
There was something special about Jordan. Although they didn’t realize it at the time, the Swillings were about to change the boy’s life, and he their lives.
“We found it necessary to drop him off so we could meet his mother to let her know who we were and that he would be playing for us if she said so,” Robin Swilling said. “She said it was fine with her if that’s what he wanted to do to keep him off the streets.”
Jordan lived in Central City, an area that concerned the Swillings. He and the Swillings’ daughter, Starr, and younger son, Trey, became close friends.
Something to work with
“A man just gave him to us at practice one day. It was like God sent him to us and we took it up from there,” Robin Swilling said. “Bruce became part of our basketball team and part of our family, staying with us on weekends.”
Pat Swilling noted, “Bruce came to us with something to work with. For a kid coming off the streets of the inner city, you’d never know it. Bruce is as good if not better than the kids I made.”
Jordan actually lived with his maternal grandmother, and when Swilling picked him up for practice, he could tell the boy was hungry.
“It’s not that his family didn’t love him,” he said. “They just didn’t have the means to take care of him. They did what they could do.”
And it was time for the Swillings to do more.
Robin Swilling took charge.
“We picked Bruce up and made sure he had a hot meal to eat,” she said. “It went from there to picking him up from school and bringing him to our home to do his homework. Then we went to practice.”
Pat, a graduate of Georgia Tech, and Robin, a teacher who studied at Xavier University, have stressed academics to their three children, Patrick (now at the University of Tulsa), Starr (an Ursuline grad and pre-med student at LSU), and Trey, who has been a student at Brother Martin since the eighth grade.
They wanted to be sure that Bruce Jordan would have that same opportunity. And it was necessary for him to keep his grades up to be eligible to play AAU. But they were shocked at what they discovered.
Jordan had attended a small school that recently opened in the uptown area. Robin Swilling said she discovered he wasn’t going to school at all.
Keeping closer tabs
“We put Bruce on our cellphone plan so we could keep in touch with him,” Pat Swilling said. “He lived in a rough area and was surrounded by a lot of stuff we weren’t sure about.”
Jordan called Robin Swilling from his grandmother’s home to ask if she would take him to school. Robin discovered he had missed 63 days of classes.
“I asked to see his grades, but nobody knew anything,” she said. Finally someone showed her a sheet of paper with some grades written down and Jordan’s name at the top of the page. “That raised some red flags for us,” Robin Swilling said.
Because the Swillings had not yet become legal guardians, they had to get Jordan’s mother to sign documents that gave them legal guardianship over the boy so they could check on his grades.
“I enrolled him at Miller-McCoy. We set up bus transportation for him. We were still trying to find out who this kid was. We just knew him on the basketball court.”
They later discovered that Jordan was an even better football player. “He was a legend at Easton Park,” Pat Swilling said.
“Everyone talked about him. He could have signed autographs.”
Then shortly before a trip to the AAU national tournament, for which Swilling’s team qualified, Jordan received a phone call that his grandmother had been hospitalized.
“We took him there,” Robin Swilling said. “I waited outside for some time, then I tried to find out where she was because Bruce didn’t come out.”
When she found the room, Jordan introduced Robin Swilling to his grandmother.
“When she saw me, she grabbed my hand, smiled and said, ‘This is what I’ve been waiting for.’”
She died two days later.
The Swillings were in a quandary. They couldn’t leave Bruce Jordan homeless. But the boy took the initiative.
“He called us out of the blue and asked if he could live with us,” Robin Williams said.
Pat Swilling agreed. “We certainly can’t raise him in another house,” he said. “So we knew it was time to take him in.”
A whole new world
Because Jordan was behind on grades and the Swillings wanted him to follow Patrick and Trey as students at Brother Martin, they had to make him academically eligible. Because he missed so much class time, including absences while recovering in the hospital from a kidney ailment, he had to repeat the eighth grade.
“We had to get him into a good school to make him eligible for Brother Martin,” Robin Swilling said. “A friend is a director at Arthur Ashe School.”
Jordan entered with a 1.34 grade point average.
“We promised him that if he got his grades up, he could continue to play AAU ball and football. He became a new person,” she said. “Bruce worked hard because he knew the prize was Brother Martin.”
Jordan made the honor roll at Arthur Ashe. Around the house, he became the best dishwasher in the Swilling household.
Having accomplished the Swilling mandates, Bruce was eager to step into a Catholic education that had already benefitted Robin Swilling and her three natural children.
“I went directly to (principal) Mr. (Gregory) Rando and told him, ‘That’s my son,’” she said. “He knew I had Patrick, Starr and Trey, but he didn’t know about Bruce. Trey told him, ‘That’s my brother.’”
Rando wanted to know how they had acquired a third “son.”
“He was a gift from God,” she responded. “Bruce put us in his life at the right time for him to make a complete turnaround.”
Although a year older than Trey, the two are in the same freshmen class and will graduate together as brothers.
And that’s the way they have lived.
Adoption just a formality
“We have legal guardianship of Bruce,” Pat Swilling said. “Our next move is to legally adopt him and have his name changed. He wants to be known as Bruce Jordan-Swilling.”
With Patrick away at college, Trey now has another opponent to play one-on-one basketball with. In the backyard of the Swilling house is a regulation-size basketball court.
“It’s not just about us and our feelings for Bruce. Patrick, Starr and Trey have accepted him as a brother,” Pat Swilling continued. “That’s a rarity. They all love him, and no one can tell him he doesn’t fit into the Swilling family.”
And Bruce is also part of the Brother Martin family in a big way, in and out of class, where he has earned a 3.1 GPA, good enough to make the freshman honor roll.
Besides a budding star on the football field and basketball court, Bruce has captured the admiration of his teammates and schoolmates.
Two weeks ago his biological mother died. On the night before the funeral services, Jordan didn’t want to let his teammates down, so he played in both the junior varsity and varsity games against District 9-5A rival Holy Cross. The Crusaders won both games.
The next day, a large number of students and administration from Brother Martin attended the service to support Jordan.
“The entire team showed up at the funeral service to embrace Bruce,” Robin Swilling said. “All of his extended family was there.”
Bruce Jordan is indeed loved. And he knows it.
“I’m very happy here,” he said. “I believe it was the best thing to happen to me.”
Pat Swilling feels the family is more fortunate.
“Now that his mother is gone, we are going to make sure his future is bright. We are very fortunate that he made us part of his life.”