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Michael Dean Chadwick is very impressed with Zone 32.
Known as “Big Daddy,” Chadwick is father-in-law Texas to Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton, whose number is the source of Zone 32’s name. At one point during his presentation, Chadwick took off his button-down shirt to reveal a grey Zone 32 T-shirt to thunderous applause from the crowd.
“This is magical stuff. This is powerful stuff. You have people who care about you,” he said. “It’s not like this everywhere.”
Chadwick will speak at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Love Civic Center. “What You Gonna Do?” is open to the public at no charge. Autographed baseballs and a jersey will be given away during the night.
North Lamar and Roxon students got a preview of Chadwick’s remarks at the event Monday morning.
NLHS Principal Paul Allen said things started when he began making phone calls and sending emails about Zone 32 to Chadwick, who lives in North Carolina. The two met this past summer when Allen travelled to North Carolina with the Beta Club. He rented a car and drove to what wound up being a two-hour meeting with Chadwick.
“I didn’t really saw a whole lot — imagine that,” Allen said to laughter from the students. “I said, ‘Mr. Chadwick, I know you’re a very, very busy man.’ “He said, ‘No, this is exactly what I need to be doing.’”
An energetic speaker, Chadwick remained on his feet and moving the entire time. He kept a bottle of water with him because “if I wanted to spit on your guys, I’d have to give you five minutes’ notice to work it up” — the result of a series of surgeries to remove tumors from his throat.
Chadwick grew up near Washington, D.C. In high school, the most important thing in his life was football. At least, until his friend Walter offered him something in a baggie guaranteed to change his life. That hit of marijuana was the first time in Chadwick’s life that he got high.
“It was awesome,” Chadwick said. “Unbelievable. I got as high as a kite.”
Pretty soon, he was calling Walter and asking for more. He started skipping football practice until a coach noticed and asked what was happening. Chadwick said he promised to be there the next day, and made the two next practices — but that was it.
“Within virtually no time at all, I’m off the football team,” he said. “And I don’t even care.”
Over the next couple of months, everything about him changed — his look, his personality and even his friends. Things really changed when two deputies showed up and arrested Chadwick in the cafeteria.
Chadwick was sentenced to 30 days’ evaluation in the Maryland Children’s Center. Within the first five minutes there, he said, he got a pool cue upside the head.
“I’m crying tears the size of grapefruit,” he said. “I want my mommy.”
Over the next 30 days, Chadwick did his best to be a model inmate. He presented no problems, did and said all the right things. He was so convinced things were fine that he called Walter and told him they could party right after his court appearance. The judge, however, had other plans.
“He said, ‘Young man, you are never going home again,’” Chadwick said. “He was right. I never went home to live again.”
Instead, he went to the Spring Grove State Mental Hospital, where he saw a man slice his wrists to the elbow with part of a Halloween clicker. The staff stitched him back up without any painkillers.
“That’s my first 15 minutes in that — excuse the expression — hellhole,” Chadwick said.
Chadwick walked out 68 days later “a changed man,” but not for the better. He spent the next decade on a drug-fueled spiral. And there were people watching him, even if he didn’t know it.
Chadwick said a mother called him and said her son wanted nothing more than to be like him. He showed a series of pictures to introduce Dale, who had “a face only a mother could love.” He had a scraggly beard, overweight, wearing only gray boxers. He had pockmarks on his legs from a heroin addiction that had ruined the circulation and nearly caused amputation. Dale had no teeth — he pulled one out each month in prison so he could get a shot of Demerol. He lived in a nasty house. Eventually, Dale’s mother called Chadwick to let him know Dale had died.
“I said, ‘Mom, I’m so sorry you are having to bury my brother because this is the life he chose to follow — my life,’” Chadwick said. “He was watching my life. Who is watching your life? I swear to you that somebody is watching.”
He also spoke about his daughter, who got pregnant as a teenager 11 years ago and the importance of deciding how you will deal with the situations and the people involved. He mentioned the night his son-in-law showed up at his house after hitting rock bottom.
He encouraged people to attend “What You Gonna Do?” Tuesday, where he said he’d get even more personal.
“This is the time of your life — make it the time of your life,” Chadwick said. “But when some guy shows up at your door and says, ‘This will change your life,’ slam the door!”
Sitting in an airport at 3 in the morning as he came to Paris, Chadwick said he found himself asking why he did this sort of thing.
“I do this because No. 1, you matter. No. 2, you have a principal who cares for you. No. 3, I want to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “if you want to make a difference in people’s lives, it’s going to cost you.”
The event ended with students and teachers putting their arms around each other and singing along with “Lean on Me,” which has become an NLHS tradition at pep rallies.