Like a proud father, Steve Pemberton situated himself in prime viewing position for Loyola’s boys basketball game at DePaul College Prep’s Steve Pappas Shootout. He sat center court, three rows from the floor, to watch his oldest child, senior guard Quinn Pemberton, and the Ramblers play Marian Catholic on Jan. 12 in Chicago.
As someone who spent almost all of his childhood without a family to truly call his own, it’s essential for Steve to be an active participant in his kids’ lives.
Quinn’s 3-pointer at the 2:02 mark of the first quarter gave Loyola its first lead, one the Ramblers held until ultimately earning a 49-35 win over the Spartans, who are on the short list of the state’s best teams and last season’s third-place finisher in Class 3A.
A captain, Quinn’s leadership was as important as his six points and six rebounds in the team’s ninth consecutive victory, according to Loyola head coach Tom Livatino. In December, Quinn’s intangibles, as well as his defense, earned him MVP honors at the Kelleher Firm Gulfshore Holiday Hoopfest in Naples, Florida. Loyola won the tournament title for the third year in a row.
“It’s not often someone wins MVP without scoring a lot of points,” Livatino said. “But Quinn does so many positive things for us.”
A complementary player as a junior, Quinn said he continues to grow more comfortable with his role and increased responsibilities this season. He credited past captains Ramar Evans (Class of 2017), Kevin Cunningham (Class of 2018) and Pete Mangan (Class of 2018) with setting good examples for him to follow.
“Being a captain is a big deal, and I felt some pressure at the beginning of the season to live up to the expectations,” Quinn said.
According to his dad, Quinn always has possessed the tools to be a leader.
“He has the kind of personality that makes a team go, a glue guy,” Steve said. “He never cares about how many points he scored. The first thing he wants to know after a game is how many turnovers and assists he had. He wants to do what is best for the team.”
Steve overcame overwhelming odds to see his son succeed.
With his birth parents unable to raise him, Steve entered Massachusetts’ foster care system when he was 3 years old. Eventually, he was placed with a family that abused him, both physically and emotionally, for 11 years.
The unspeakable conditions under which he lived as a child only strengthened Steve’s spirit.
“Every day was an enormous battle,” he said. “It was a turbulent and difficult existence. I formed a belief that one day I could emerge from my situation, and I steadily pursued that vision.”
He escaped by excelling in the classroom. After graduating high school, he attended Boston College. Steve now lives in Lake Forest with his wife, Tonya, and three children and is the Chief Human Resources Officer at Globoforce.
As a young boy, Quinn heard stories about his father’s past and wanted to learn more. But when he inquired, his dad resisted sharing the details of his childhood.
“I would ask him about his parents, but he didn’t have anything to say,” Quinn said. “He felt like I wasn’t ready to know, and I think he was worried about how I would handle it. But I wanted to find out anyway.”
Persistent, Quinn got his hands on a copy of A Chance in the World, a book his dad wrote. A middle school student at the time, Quinn discovered the remarkable road his dad traveled on his way to adulthood.
Steve’s book, which was published in 2012, was adapted for film and released in 2018. Livatino took last season’s team to see A Chance in the World at a theater in Evanston.
Loyola senior and captain Connor Barrett, a close friend of Quinn’s since grade school, was moved by the movie’s message.
“You can do anything you put your mind to,” Barrett said. “Mr. P is a tough guy. He showed that if you’re resilient and confident, it can lead to success. What he went through shaped him into the person he is today.”
Quinn encountered his own adversity to get to where he is today.
In eighth grade, he suffered the first of two knee injuries. The second, toward the end of his freshman year at Loyola, required reconstructive surgery. Quinn worked his way back to full strength and became a contributor to the varsity team as a junior.
“He was concerned he was not going to be able to play anymore,” Steve said. “I never experienced something like that when I was younger. But I told him if he addressed the challenge and gave all of his effort, he will be able to live with the outcome. I am incredibly proud of how he got through it. He learned lessons he will carry with him the rest of his life.”
Admittedly, Quinn said he won’t completely understand everything his dad endured. But his dad’s message helped him during his recovery.
“If I think about it, it takes me a moment to appreciate all he’s been through,” he said. “I am still trying comprehend it all. The situation I faced was nowhere near what my dad went through, but I used the things he taught me as motivation.”
That’s why Quinn is acutely aware of the significance of his place in the family.
“My dad has set a great example, and so has my mother,” he said. “They encourage and support us in all we do. They want us to accomplish whatever we want to in life.”
It’s no surprise that Quinn is prospering in the classroom and on the basketball court, according to Steve. Same goes for his other two children — Vaughn, a sophomore athlete at Loyola, and Kennedy, an eighth-grader.
Once he started a family, Steve said it was imperative that his children were born with a last name. He didn’t adopt the Pemberton name, which came from his birth father, until he was 26 years old.
“That means everything to me, and I don’t want them to know a life without it,” Steve said. “I get a sense of satisfaction knowing that all of the stands I took and all the fighting I did for a normal life was worth it.”
Photo (from left to right): Quinn, Tonya, Vaughn, Kennedy, Steve