Devonte Malcolm was on time for his first class of the day at Buena High School in Sierra Vista a couple of weeks back. His classmates normally wouldn't have thought anything of it. Devonte was always in class and always on time; someone had convinced him of the veracity of that old saying that 90 percent of success in life is just showing up. He was proud of his perfect attendance.
His mom would have been proud, too, except she had been killed the night before.
Cynthia Jones was on her way home that night from her second of two jobs, that of a cook at Buffalo Wild Wings. She didn't own a car, so she was walking home. She stopped at Fry's to pick up a few things. To get to the Cloud Nine trailer park where she and Devonte lived, she would have to cross Highway 90, which has always been the main drag in Sierra Vista. In town, it's called Fry Boulevard. (People in Cochise County used to refer to it as French Fry Boulevard, because it appeared to be a three-mile stretch zoned only for fast-food places.)
Jones was crossing just east of the big intersection with Highway 92, near where 90 starts leading east out of town. It was later in the evening, and while it was well past rush hour, traffic on that stretch of road never dies down completely.
The authorities aren't quite sure what happened. Maybe she was tired from working the two jobs and didn't see the vehicle or misjudged its approaching speed. (The driver remained at the scene and wasn't cited.) Maybe she was struggling to carry the groceries she had bought. Maybe she tripped, or maybe it was just 50-year-old legs.
Whatever the case, she was taken to the Sierra Vista Regional Health Center, where she was pronounced dead. The police knocked on Devonte's door later that night and told him what had happened. He said he lost it for a brief time, retreating to his room to cry, and then calmed down. He knew what he had to do, and so, after the worst night of his life, he got up the next morning and went to school. He said he knows that his mom would have wanted him to.
As a sophomore last year, Devonte was part of the best boys' basketball team in Buena High School history as the Colts reached the 5A-I (big school) state tournament final four for the first time. His coach, Dave Glasgow, is effusive in his praise.
"He's a great kid," said Glasgow. "Real quiet, polite, a hard worker. You could always tell how close he was to his mother. And she really stressed the important things, (including) perfect attendance."
Devonte hasn't missed a day of school and missed only one day of basketball practice. This year, he's expected to be one of the best players in Southern Arizona. Glasgow thinks it's probably best for the kid to be around his classmates and teammates. "He's trying to stay busy and be around people," he said. "It's really sad, but in a way, we're the only family he's got now."
He and his mom had moved to the Army-base town from Richmond, Calif., the rough lower-middle-class town that was the setting for the based-in-fact basketball movie Coach Carter, which starred Samuel L. Jackson in the title role. Devonte had been getting in trouble in Richmond, and his single mom could see where he was heading.
Basketball eased his potentially problematic transition to life in the desert. When he and his mom first arrived in Sierra Vista, they moved into a place not far from the high school. Across the street lived a girl named Keyondra White. She's a year younger than he, but they're in the same grade, and they both love basketball. (Keyondra was an all-conference player last year for Buena.) They set up hoops on the sidewalks in front of their respective places so they could play full-court across the street. They've been best friends for years. He's currently staying with Keyondra's family, but it's probably not going to be a permanent thing.
"We're working on it," said Glasgow. "He's still a minor, so he's not going to be on his own. Several of his teammates' families offered to take him in, but it's all up in the air right now."
I asked Devonte about his father, and he just shrugged and said, "He's in California." When asked where in California, he replied, "I don't know. Somewhere in California."
Glasgow is in the process of setting up a permanent fund for Devonte. If anybody would like to help, they can send a check to Devonte Malcolm in care of Dave Glasgow at Buena High School, 5225 E. Buena School Blvd., Sierra Vista, AZ 85635.
At press time, his mother still hadn't been laid to rest due to difficulties gathering family members from different parts of the country. But he continues to show up at school and practice every day. His classmates and teachers are amazed at how strong he has been through this whole thing.
"My mom gave me the focus," he said. "Keeping the focus keeps her with me."