Chaffee twins welcome classmate to family huddle

Friday, September 28, 2007
Foster brother Robert Filipiak, center, has found new direction between Steger twins Jerrod, left, and Josh at their home in Chaffee. (Kit Doyle)

Chaffee junior Robert Filipiak will go to all means possible on Friday nights to see the Red Devils football team in action and to keep a close eye on senior tailback Jerrod Steger.

"Most of the high school just drives to the games, but their last game was in Arkansas," he said. "So I rode in a pep bus all the way there for three hours with a bunch of junior high kids throwing candy and soda and stuff like that all over the place so I could watch them play. It was actually a really good game. Jerrod rushed for 105 yards on 26 carries."

Filipiak, 17, moved to the same neighborhood as Steger a little less than two years ago. It was there he was placed in his 20th foster home in approximately six years. His temper, he said, caused him to bounce from house to house, and he was unable to form a brotherly relationship with any person in his life.

That was until he met Steger.

"I came here and Jerrod has set a big example for me and he's definitely the big brother I've always wanted," Filipiak said. "He's athletic and funny. He does pretty good in school. ... And he definitely [is] a big class clown."

"There might be different terms, but we all call each other real brothers," said Cody Steger, referring to his different foster, step and half brothers. The band of brothers includes (clockwise from bottom right) Cody Steger (striped shirt), Josh Steger, Jerrod Steger, Bobby Canady, Manny McMullin, Houston Sexton, Robert Filipiak, Chris Sexton and David Sexton.

About 20 months have passed since Filipiak and Steger first met, and just months after meeting, the two boys were almost forced to say goodbye to each other.

Filipiak was on the move again, being placed in his 21st foster home in about six years -- this time at a home in Cape Girardeau. But Steger and his family knew how eager Filipiak was to remain in Chaffee. So Jerrod's father and stepmother, Shannon and Edie Steger, completed the process of taking him into their home as their own foster child.

Filipiak now has more brothers than he ever could have imagined as Jerrod not only has a fraternal twin, Josh Steger, but another six brothers -- some half brothers, some step brothers.

The others, from oldest to youngest, include Manny McMullin, 28; David Sexton, 25; Cody Steger, 22; Chris Sexton, 21; Houston Sexton, 14; and Bobby Canady, 13.

"We've already got so many we might as well add another one," Josh said. "He's like a real brother. ... I'm just glad he's finally found somewhere to stay for good instead of moving like every month."

Filipiak is glad the already large family added him as its newest member.

Jerrod is a three-year varsity player at tailback, wide receiver and defensive back and was named to last year's Class 1 Southeast Missouri all-regional defensive second team. Josh, who is playing high school football for the first time this season, starts at offensive tackle and defensive end for the Red Devils, who will host Scott City tonight at 7 p.m.

"He's like another brother," Jerrod said. "[Last year] was like his first real Christmas and his first real everything. I don't think he had much to look forward to any other time."

New kid in town

When he first moved to Chaffee, Filipiak would pass by the Steger house on Elliott Avenue while walking to school each morning.

Edie -- Jerrod's stepmother -- said she looked out the window one day and saw Filipiak and was surprised she had never seen him before because Chaffee is such a small town and she knows most of the students. She said she asked Jerrod and Josh about him and they told her they heard he was a foster child.

"I said to them, 'He's probably had a rough time so just be nice to him,'" Edie said. "I don't know if it was the very next day or two days later, but Jerrod brings him home into the house. And Jerrod just took him under his wing."

Filipiak said Jerrod continued to stop to speak to him whenever he saw him walking alone.

"I didn't know anybody here, and when Jerrod would see me walking around town, doing practically nothing, he would come pick me up and we'd go do something and he'd let me hang out with him and his friends," Filipiak said. "He's a pretty good guy."

When Filipiak first learned he was to move to his 21st foster home, he went to the Steger house to inform Jerrod, who was not there at the time. So he told Edie instead.

"He told me that they were going to move him again and that this was the first place that had felt like home," Edie said.

After Filipiak left, Edie and Shannon discussed the prospect of becoming foster parents. And later that day, they brought all the children together to ask them how they felt about Robert joining the family. Edie told them that there was a possibility that some of the children would have to share a bedroom and that they would not receive as many presents at Christmas.

"They all automatically said 'Yes,'" Edie said. "They called Robert back over and just everybody cried together and it was really emotional."

Edie said she then went through the training process with family services to become a foster parent.

"When I first got here I didn't have very many clothes, or very much stuff," Filipiak said. "Jerrod let me wear some of his clothes. He let me wear his shoes and when I first got my license, he let me drive his truck. I broke his steering wheel. But he didn't care. I figured he'd beat the crap out of me. ... If you need something, they'll both help you."

Filipiak, who said this past Christmas was the first he ever looked forward to, has become one of Jerrod's biggest football fans.

Finding inspiration

When training camp began, the Red Devils had a number of backs competing to receive handoffs, including Steger, Steven Atkinson and Dylan McAlister.

Filipiak was inspired by the way Steger stepped up and won a job as both a running back and wide receiver. He said Jerrod showed him he needs to work to achieve his goals -- one of which for him is to attend college, possibly at Southeast Missouri State.

"They have so many running backs it's unbelievable," Filipiak said. "Through practice before the first game and through him working hard, he won that battle. ... He definitely showed if you want something, you've got to step up and do something to get it."

Over the past year, Jerrod and Josh -- who are both undecided about whether they will attend college (Josh might join the Air Force) -- have included Filipiak in many of their regular activities and hobbies. The Steger twins' real mother, Mary McMullin, of Oran, said Jerrod and Josh will sometimes bring Robert over when they visit. Shannon, the twin's father, said they bring Filipiak both hunting and fishing. Filipiak had to take a hunting safety course before going at first because of his foster-care status, the family said.

Jerrod took Filipiak dove hunting a couple weekends ago. Filipiak said he didn't even know what one looked like until the trip.

"Jerrod really took to him, looked after him and has been good to him," half brother Manny McMullin, said. "Now they've been together long enough that it's a great brother relationship."

Josh even invited Filipiak to a Red Devils football dinner last Thursday, which normally is reserved for members of the team.

"That was a pretty good experience," Filipiak said. "We pulled up to the school and a lot of the football players were like, 'What's he doing here?' Josh was like, 'Leave him alone, he's here with me.'"

But for Filipiak, all the events, trips and good times are extra. He is just happy that he finally has some brothers.

"I don't have any brothers or sisters, so it's always something I always wanted -- either a younger or older brother," he said. "I didn't really care. I just wanted one. ... Having two brothers to look up to, it's definitely a pretty good deal."

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