In 1997, when York was 6, his father walked out of his life, leaving his mother, Deborah, and 3-year-old brother, Gabriel, in dire straits. Deborah York and her two young sons shared a room in her parents’ garage for five years until she was able to get out of thousands of dollars in debt. York, 38, worked seven days a week for a year and a half, without a day off, to scale a mountain of bills. After five years of working two jobs, she was able to buy the condominium where the family now resides. Eli, as he’s called by friends, felt such a strong connection to his mother’s family that at age 10 he stood in front of a judge to ask that his last name be changed to his mother’s maiden name, York. “They’re my real family. I want to be part of them,” he said. DIAMOND BAR – Elijah York is 16 going on 25. In many ways, the Diamond Bar High School forward has lived a lifetime in those 16 years. He uses the basketball court as a way to strengthen family bonds torn in the past. The 6-foot-5 junior averages 10 points, five blocks and six rebounds a game. He has helped Diamond Bar (16-11) to third place in the competitive Sierra League at 6-4. Yet everything he does on the basketball court is in a way more therapy for himself and his family members than anything else. When he was 12, York decided he needed to step up and play the role of father for his little brother Gabriel. “We fight like all brothers do,” Gabriel said, “but we’re very close and Eli teaches me everything I want or need to know. He is my brother, but he does fill into that father role when it’s needed.” Despite the feelings of abandonment, York insists he has had a happy and complete life because of the devotion and sacrifices of his mother and grandparents. York’s last contact with his father was a phone call on April 7, 1997, on his seventh birthday. His dad told him he wouldn’t be able to come home, but to look in the mail for the gift he sent. “For seven days, Eli ran out to the mailbox and nothing ever came,” Deborah said. “Finally, I bought another gift and mailed it and signed his name.” “I don’t really think of him anymore because I consider anyone who walks out on their family a coward,” Eli said. “Sometimes I see my friends with their dads and wonder what it would be like, but my mom’s given me everything I’ve needed.” It is no wonder both Eli and Gabriel idolize their mother. “My mom is my rock,” Eli said. “She’s gotten me through everything and she is without a doubt my hero and my friend.” Valerie and Don York, the boys’ grandparents, attend every one of Eli and Gabriel’s games. “Without my grandparents, we would have never gotten back on our feet,” Eli said. York has been able to maintain a 3.2 grade point average. York feels the greatest accomplishment he could attain would to be to become a successful, respectful adult, someone his mother can be proud of. “I tell my kids they can’t tell me I’m a great mom, they have to show me,” Deborah said. Having defeated some of life’s real challenges tends to put sports in its proper perspective, but basketball has brought Eli a great deal of joy. “Eli is an important part of our team,” Diamond Bar coach J.T. Cameron said. “He is excellent on the defensive end and is a respectful young man.” The Brahmas completed their first season sweep over Glendora in recent memory and are now looking to make a playoff run. “Basketball has been a great release for me,” Eli said. “When I’m on the court, I am completely focused on the game.” Basketball has also helped Eli bond even more with his brother. “I love shooting hoops with him and I always go watch him when he’s playing and cheer him on,” Eli said. “My mom taught me how to play, so I taught him.” “My brother is always trying to make me the best player that he thinks I can be because I know he believes in me,” Gabriel said. “It’s really nice to know he values the time we spend together.” Eli’s dream is to play basketball at UCLA and then embark on an NBA career. And, of course, to be able to take care of his mother. “I’d love to be able to give my mom anything she wants or needs,” Eli said. “She deserves to be happy. “I am going to prove to my mom that she was a great mother and I can’t wait to see the smile on her face when I have lived up to her standards. “I’m also looking forward to a day when I can be the great father that I never had.” 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!