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Soccer Prodigy's Parents Are Letting Go Early

February 14, 2001|SUSAN REIMER | THE BALTIMORE SUN

Like most parents of teenagers, David and Liz Barclay can't sleep until they know their 17-year-old is in for the night.

But they don't listen for the car in the driveway or the muffled click of a key in the front door. Only when the phone rings do they know that Devin is OK.

"David asks the score and about how he played," says Liz Barclay. "I just need to know if he is all right, then I can fall asleep."

Devin calls home every night, but often from another country.

Their son isn't old enough to have his own checking account, but he is traveling the world under the care of U.S. soccer.

The speedy prodigy was drafted this week by Major League Soccer's Tampa Bay Mutiny. He might not return home to Annapolis, Md., again until July, after the soccer world championships in Argentina.

Talk about letting go.

"Devin's life is out of our hands, and it has been for a couple of years now," Liz says. "He is living among men, and he is not sleeping in his own bed, and I suspect sometimes it is lonely for him. It's hard, but it is what he wants, and it isn't difficult to nurture a passion when it's your child."

Devin withdrew from McDonogh School this fall, before the start of his junior year, when it was clear that his commitments to U.S. soccer would take him out of school far too often. He will piece together his high school diploma, and Major League Soccer will pay for him to go to college when he retires.

But his mother is an educator with a master's degree from Harvard, and his father is an attorney. Surely this isn't the vision they had for their firstborn, for whom they sacrificed to pay for first-rate schooling.

"Devin is getting a different kind of education now," his mother says with cheerful surety. Undoubtedly this isn't the first time she has had to answer rude questions about placing sports above education.

"I started thinking that Devin would have a pro career instead of college a long time ago," Liz says. "Your best years as a player are from 17 to 21. It wouldn't make sense to spend them in school."

Devin has been so good for so long that the Barclays are practiced in making decisions that benefit his development as a soccer player--that explains the long commute from Annapolis to McDonogh School in Owings Mills, Md. And Devin wanted it so certainly that his parents never doubted the wisdom of it.

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But it has accelerated the process of growing up and away, and it has taken him far outside the family circle--Mexico, Portugal, Chile, France, England, California.

Liz is director of admissions at Indian Creek, an independent school outside Annapolis, and she knows children learn in different ways and that learning can take place outside the classroom.

She believes that all the goals of education--a child who is self-confident, has the tools to learn, the reserves to triumph over adversity and an enjoyment of life--are being met in Devin's unorthodox schooling, especially because he is so invested in the process.

And, although there are dangers, temptations and setbacks waiting for Devin, there are many that he has missed: driving, parties and the dreadful risks of high school.

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"He knows that the difference between an A-plus athlete and an A-minus athlete is often a matter of lifestyle," she says. There are other trade-offs, too. Devin and his younger brother, Colin, a sophomore soccer player at McDonogh, will not have the companionship of their final years under the same roof, but Devin and his parents have also leapfrogged much of the emotional turbulence that adolescence can visit on families.

"Devin took up a lot of space in our lives, and, as much as we miss him, our relationship has actually improved," she says.

Liz and David Barclay have done--suddenly and drastically--what parents are supposed to do: step back and step away as their child's future takes shape.

If it is hard to believe that she doesn't miss him like mad and worry like crazy, it might be because she believes he has found his gift, and he is happy pursuing it.

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