Bob and Shirley
Larkin pulled into their driveway at dusk one day a few years back, their car
full of tired kids, balls and bats, sweaty caps and chunks of clay. They were
met by a neighbor who shook his head. He gestured at the Larkin lawn, which was
generously spotted with dandelions and bare patches. The neighbor said,
"You know, if you spent a little more time on your lawn, that grass would
look a lot better."
replied, "Well, I'm really more interested in raising kids than I am in
The Larkin lawn is
still perhaps a bit scruffy by local standards in Silverton, Ohio, a pleasant
Cincinnati suburb of brick houses and tall oak trees. The Larkin kids, on the
other hand, have flourished. The only daughter, a biochemistry major on an
academic scholarship at the University of Cincinnati, is preparing for a career
in medicine. Last September, Silverton honored one of the sons, an Olympic
medalist, with a motorcade. "The Larkins epitomize the all-American
family," says Jeff Fogelson, athletic director at Cincinnati's Xavier
University. "They're extraordinary."
And, in one
respect, unique. Three of the Larkin children are starters for three different
Division I colleges in three different sports. Mike, 22, is a defensive
co-captain for the Notre Dame football team. Barry, 21, is the leading prospect
on the Michigan baseball squad; he played shortstop for the U.S. Olympic
demonstration team, which won a silver medal at Los Angeles. Byron, 19, a guard
on the Xavier basketball team, was the fifth-highest-scoring freshman in NCAA
Division I last season.
"And the best
Larkin athlete hasn't even come to rise yet," says Notre Dame football
coach Gerry Faust. He means 12-year-old Stephen, who is still trampling
dandelions in the Larkin backyard.
practically a Larkin himself. On his desk he proudly displays an autographed
Olympic baseball, a gift from Barry. He coached Mike and Barry in football at
Cincinnati's powerhouse Moeller High before moving on to South Bend in 1980. He
held 7-year-old Stephen's coat when the youngster put on shooting exhibitions
at halftimes of Moeller basketball games. "They're such a solid
family," he says. "That mom and dad, they exemplify what parenthood is
If the Larkins
were a television series instead of a family, they would be The Cosby
Show—black family, both parents in professional jobs, five lively kids. Bob is
an analytical chemist, supervising a staff of 21 at the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency in Cincinnati. He's a genial,
articulate man who rarely raises his voice. "I call him Cool Guy," says
Barry. Shirley, who met and married Bob when they were students at Xavier
University of Louisiana, is a part-time medical technologist at Children's
Hospital in Cincinnati. An enthusiastic bowler and bingo player, she's as
spontaneous and uninhibited as her husband is reserved, a woman who speaks her
mind and cares deeply about big issues. She once invited the police to
Silverton Elementary to talk to a Brownie troop about drug abuse.
Like characters in
a TV script, the Larkin children are just as sharply defined. Robin, 23, the
eldest, took ballet lessons, practiced scales on the living-room piano and made
life difficult for her brothers, as big sisters do. As the oldest boy, Mike got
into the most mischief and won the most backyard fights. "Michael used to
catch bees, drown 'em and pick their wings off," Byron says, raising an
Barry was the
sensitive second son, quiet and trustworthy. Says Michael', "Barry is the
sort of person who will lie so as not to hurt someone's feelings." Byron
was Skinny-minny to his mother, best pal to Barry and sparring partner to Mike.
"I always tried to be like Barry," Byron says sheepishly, "but I
ended up being like Michael."
Stephen, the ham of the clan. Faust tells how he once devoted a weekend morning
to watching Stephen as a running back for the Deer Park Cobras. "Stevie
leaned out of the huddle to see if I was watching," Faust says, "and he
waved. Then he broke off a 60- or 70-yard touchdown run and looked over his
shoulder and grinned at me on the way. Is that something?"