Not many high school student-athletes have had to go through as many obstacles in order to obtain a college scholarship for athletics like Jameson Cluver has.
And that’s because the Watseka senior didn’t grow up in a traditional American household. Instead, he grew up in a small village located in Haiti, with his seven other siblings where he spent his early adolescent years before getting moved into an orphanage in the tiny Caribbean nation.
“We lived in a small village and you kind of had that feeling that everyone had your back,” Cluver said. “We weren’t rich, but I didn’t know it at that time. I didn’t know what a television was until I got to the orphanage.”
Due to Jameson’s big family dynamic, his biological parents were struggling financially and so they opted to send Jameson and his older sister, Beatha, to an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
“My mom couldn’t afford enough money and then she wanted to give us a better future so she put me and my sister up for adoption,” Cluver said. “My mom only sent me and my sister and didn’t do all my other brothers and sisters because they were all old enough to take care of themselves.”
Jameson was just three-years-old when he and his sister got put an orphanage home. Together the two of them stayed there for five years where they constantly had to look over their shoulders due to the lack of supervision and food supply.
“There weren’t a lot of adults watching you so you could just do whatever,” Cluver said. “Kids would beat each other and nobody would care, the nannies would be really mean, kids wouldn’t get fed enough and so a lot of us were malnourished.
“It kind of felt like a Lord of the Flies situation where you had to fend for yourself. All the years I lived there it was kind of just me and my sister having each other’s back.”
As scary as it was living in the orphanage on a daily basis, nothing compared to when the 2010 Haiti Earthquake struck and decimated a majority of the country into a bunch of debris and killed roughly 250,000 people. It was a moment Jameson will never be able to forget simply due to the fact he had lived it.
“The earthquake was really traumatizing for me,” Cluver said. “Especially because I was inside a building when it happened. And the ground was making a loud, booming sound and then the ground started shaking to a point where you couldn’t stand which made me fall.”
As a result of the earthquake and all the damages it caused, Jameson and his sister were moved to a group home in Pittsburgh, where they stayed for about a year before Chad Cluver and his family decided to live out his live-long dream of adoption.
“For a long time, even when I was in high school I always thought about adoption,” Watseka basketball coach Chad Cluver said. “I never really talked to anyone about it, but it’s something I saw myself doing. And then my wife [Sherry] went on a mission trip to Haiti with pictures and there was a picture of this gorgeous girl from the orphanage and so I knew it would get my wife thinking of adoption and sure enough it happened.”
Jameson and Beatha were officially adopted in January of 2011 by the Cluvers, which brought the family total to two brothers and two sisters — two biological (Baylor, Hunter) and two non-biological (Jameson, Beatha). Chad and Sherry both were teaching at Maroa-Forsyth at the time. Jameson was only a second-grader and Beatha was in fifth grade. And it didn’t take long for Chad to note he had a special son.
“Jameson is a wonderful kid, “ Chad said. “I could not have asked for a better son. He does everything we ask of him and he works really hard and it really motivated.”
Surely enough Jameson and Beatha had to quickly get accustomed to their new lives as Americans. No longer would they have to watch their backs or worry about where their next meal was coming from as they found a new home in the Cluver’s.
“It was quite a journey, especially coming from Haiti and living all those years in the orphanage and having to always look over your back and try and be alone,” Jameson said. “Whenever I was adopted I had to get used to being a part of a family because I didn’t really have anyone before to rely on besides my sister.”
The newly-found structure in Jameson and Beatha’s life took some getting used to, especially the new rules and boundaries set before them in their new household.
“A lot of it was getting used to the whole fact of being in a home with us and following the rules and parameters and what that was like,” Chad said. “And just basic things as a young child that you kind of understand as you keep getting older, there’s’ things you have to teach and re-teach.”
More than any lesson or household chore, the most difficult part for Jameson coming to American was learning the English language.
“The English language was really hard on me,” Jameson said. “I have no trouble speaking it now, but I still struggle writing it sometimes.”
A huge part as to why Jameson has come along way with his English is in large part due to the help of his brother and sister, Hunter and Baylor.
“Baylor was especially helpful because she was always ahead of everyone else in her class,” Jameson said. “I remember when we were young she would always read to me whenever I couldn’t read the books.
“Whenever I didn’t know what things were or if I had questions Baylor and Hunter were always there for me,” he added. “They were both very supportive through everything and helped me with my transition to American life.”
Baylor enjoyed helping out her brother in part because she liked to play “school” as a child and now had the chance to do it with a brother whose eagerness to learned matched her desire to teach.
“I always helped him with reading and I would always read to him,” Baylor said. “It was something I liked to do because I like to play school when I was little and so it was just really good to have someone so close to me always at school.”
Having gained familiarity to American life over the past decade or so Jameson has become quite the athlete in his spare time. He began playing basketball around the fourth grade in part because of Chad being a basketball coach. Chad and Sherry eventually went to Watseka in 2015, where Chad has coached basketball and taught math and Sherry has taught history ever since.
Through many hours of practice and hard work Jameson saw his game develop into what it is today which is why he has gotten the unique chance to play for his father on the Watseka boys varsity basketball team for the past three years.
“I like my dad because he pushes me to be my best both on and off the court,” Jameson said. “And it’s really nice to have him as a dad because you kind of get the best of both worlds.
He does a nice job separating [from being] the coach and being your dad.”
Chad has gotten the chance to do what all fathers want which is to put his son in the right position to succeed. And because of his being the Warriors coach, he has had the privilege to watch Jameson’s success first-hand.
“Jameson’s work ethic and expectation of trying to be the best he can be has been really fun to watch,” Chad said.
In addition to playing football in the fall or basketball in the winter Jameson also participates in track and field. It’s the sport he does best due to his lightning quickness. In his sophomore season two years ago for Watseka Jameson ran a personal-best 50.3 seconds in the 400 meter dash as well as a 49.8 s split in the 4×400 meter relay.
His quickness has even led him to continue his athletic career at the University of Tennessee-Martin after he secured himself a scholarship to be a part of the Skyhawks’ track and field program.
“I never thought I would be going to college, let alone being able to earn a scholarship for track and field,” Jameson said. “I just thought I would be a normal person trying to make it by and help my family back in Haiti.”
And for his family, the transition from an uncertain childhood to the brightest of futures has been undescribable to witness.
“I’m extremely proud of Jameson for earning a scholarship for track and field,” Chad said. “Words probably don’t even express how happy I am for him because of all the hard work he had to put in.”