Jeneé Osterheldt

Long days and loads of dedication help this son of immigrants win college scholarship

Javier Contreras is one of 275 students from across the country, and the only one from Kansas, to have been awarded the Chick Evans Scholarship for caddies. It's a full ride, housing included, valued at $100,000.
Javier Contreras is one of 275 students from across the country, and the only one from Kansas, to have been awarded the Chick Evans Scholarship for caddies. It's a full ride, housing included, valued at $100,000. Special to the Star

For the past year, his 16-hour days started at 4:30 in the morning.

The Olathe North High School wrestler would work out in the gym, make it to school by 7 a.m. and not get home from wrestling practice until after 6 p.m., when it was time to hit the books.

On weekends he'd study and work as a caddy at Indian Hills Country Club. Even when he was competing in wrestling tournaments, he'd squeeze a shift on the green around his moves on the mat.

"Sometimes you have to work twice as hard at things to even be noticed," 18-year-old Javier Contreras told me on his graduation day in May. "My dad is a hard worker. I've watched him support six kids. I've gone to his jobs. He runs his own construction company. Year after year, he doesn't quit. So I won't quit, either."

His determination earned him a spot as one of 275 students from across the country, and the only one from Kansas, to have been awarded the Chick Evans Scholarship for caddies. It's a full ride, housing included, valued at $100,000.

He's vowed to be the first in his family to graduate from college.

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"The whole world can be against you, but with family and faith, you can do anything," says Javier Contreras (front), with his parents, Diana, and Javier. Rich Sugg rsugg@kcstar.com

Javier starts his next chapter at the University of Kansas in the fall. His big brother Armando cried. The 23-year-old was also a wrestler. He started college but, due to financial hardship, couldn't finish. But he's been pushing Javier to find a way.

"I started wrestling in the eighth grade to follow in his footsteps," Javier tells me, pointing at the awards on the wall. "I ended up being better than him. He was the one waking me up and taking me to the gym. With wrestling, nothing is easy. Everything you win you earn."

Javier left Wyandotte High School and his family's Kansas City, Kan., home to move in with his brother and finish his senior year at Olathe North. There, he says, he could compete at a higher level and be better prepared for college.

Javier won the 145-pound championship at this year's Class 6A state wrestling tournament.

"I made friends. I went to prom. But, oh, snap," he says. "Moving away from my parents and living with my brother for a whole year was so sad. I was lonely for them. I missed my mom's food, her enchiladas. I just like being with them. Even when I get married, I'm going to move close."

The feeling is mutual. On a Sunday afternoon, his mom and dad sit on their couch with Javier's four little sisters and brothers, all watching Javier with pride as he recounts the past year. Their dog, Lolita, whom we all affectionately call a pug-huahua, bounces from lap to lap. When one person moves, everyone looks with love. Prayers hang on the wall. When you walk through the door, they welcome you as family.

"Even though we are immigrants," his mother, Diana, says, "we have always met people who we believe came from God. We didn't have a lot of resources growing up in Mexico. We dreamed very big, but we didn't have the opportunities. So this generation of parents, we are motivating our kids to go to college so they don't have to take the jobs we took. They can be doctors and lawyers."

As much as Javier loves wrestling, when it came to choosing one of the 20 Evans Scholars universities, he chose KU, which doesn't have a wrestling program.

"It's closer," he says. "It was hard for me to be away from them this year, and I wasn't far. I can join club wrestling or club soccer. I'm thinking about pre-dental or studying business so I can take over my dad's business one day."

But he's still caddying for the summer. Although Indian Hills Country Club, in Mission Hills, is a place his family could never afford to join, a place founded during the era of segregation and the restrictive racist and anti-Semitic covenants, Javier says "it's a blessing."

"At the country club, all of those people are people who have gotten to the top by being willing to grow and helping companies grow," he says, "and they have been so helpful in helping me grow."

The work of caddies can be grueling. They don't just carry the golfer's bag. They follow the ball so it can be found. They tend to the pin. They learn the course so they can help players read the green and suggest the right clubs.

Javier was in middle school when he learned about caddying and the scholarship. John Cameron, his coach with the Kansas City Gladiators club wrestling team, introduced him to the idea.

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Javier Contreras starts at the University of Kansas in the fall. He's determined to be the first in his family to graduate college. Rich Sugg rsugg@kcstar.com

"I was one of four brothers, two of whom received the Evans Scholarship," John says. "I was not the studious one. It was beyond anything I could do at the time. But Javier was a bright kid and a hardworking young man. He took direction and was able to execute. The sport of wrestling is very technical. If you are sloppy in your technique your success is going to be limited. Javier has gifts, and we didn't know then he would go on to win the scholarship, but I thought he had a shot. I'm certainly proud of him."

Evans Scholars can't simply have a financial need. They must have at least a B average, caddied for a minimum of two years and demonstrated integrity and leadership.

"Everyone respects Javier," says Jack Holland, a Western Golf Association director and member of Indian Hills Country Club who was an Evans Scholar 50 years ago. "He was Caddy of the Year his first year. He's caddied for me regularly. I remember walking down the 12th fairway between shots and one time he asked, 'Mr. Holland, what do you think was more significant to the country, Kennedy's assassination or Sept. 11th?' I was so impressed by the thoughtfulness of this young man. He is very hardworking."

And Javier is determined to continue his success. He's sitting on the couch, dressed in his Sunday best — slacks, a red, white and blue button-down shirt and Captain America socks — and his hazel eyes are almost golden as he wrestles with his dreams for the future.

"The whole world can be against you, but with family and faith, you can do anything," he says. "Without God, I wouldn't have any of it. I wouldn't have this scholarship. I'm going to college. People are willing to work so hard for so little just for family. I want America to be like that, to be a family."

I look at Javier, and I don't just see a young Mexican-American with his whole life ahead of him. I see my little brother with the kind of heart and drive that make this a better place. I'm rooting for you, Javier. ¡Tú puedes!

Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnist. On Twitter: @jeneeinkc





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