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Kid Skills

It's difficult for college athletes who balance sports, school and taking care of their children

March 04, 2007|From the Associated Press

When Oregon State wrestler Jeremy Larson wins a match, he skips a chance to go out with the boys.

Instead, he heads home to tuck in his toddler.

"Sometimes I stop and say, 'Hey, this is pretty crazy,' " Larson said. "But most of the time I stay pretty busy and just keep after things."

Most college players hold down the equivalent of two jobs -- student and athlete. Add in the role of involved parent, and every day can become an endless string of dirty diapers, classes, homework and practice.

For Larson, a senior ranked 17th in his weight class, college life revolves around 10-month-old Benjamin.

"We do stick out like a sore thumb," said Larson's wife, Lisa. "But I don't think either one of us minds it."

The odds are against athlete parents. Some find themselves torn between sports and school, or sneaking a day off to spend time with a precious little one.

If baby's up at 3 the morning of the big game, so is the star quarterback or point guard.

Colorado Coach Dan Hawkins has watched quarterback Bernard Jackson, who has a 2-year-old son, try to excel in all three areas.

"It's extremely difficult," Hawkins said. "We have a few other guys that are parents as well. You know, shoot, it's hard enough to juggle football and school, then you've got to juggle parenthood in there."

Jackson is fine with that.

"It's become very humbling for myself," he said. "I don't do the things that most college students would do. It's matured me a lot. I enjoy every minute of it. I wouldn't ask for any other situation. This is my life."

Becky Mehring understands. The UCLA volleyball player gets only a short break between classes, practices and matches. When she does, the junior finds herself drawn home to son Mason.

"He's so much fun," she said. "He walks now and says some words and he's just like a ball of energy. And he is just so happy.

"When I get to come home for two hours, it just makes your day that much better. Him smiling and how animated he is now, I mean, oh, it's just so awesome."

Like many college students, Texas Tech linebacker Paul Williams wasn't sure how he would handle life as a parent.

When wife Crystal told him she was pregnant, Williams couldn't figure out how he was going to fit a baby into an already packed schedule. Plus, his wife sometimes worked 12-hour shifts as a nurse.

After Ashton was conceived, their social life became board games and television, along with midnight trips to the store for ice cream and Bomb Pops. As the baby's birth neared, the worry increased.

"But then it's almost like Super Daddy mode takes over when the baby's born," Williams said.

The 22-year-old Williams said his wife leaves for work shortly before 6 a.m. He rouses the baby a half-hour later, feeds him and takes him to daycare. Then it's off to class in the morning and team meetings and practices in the afternoon.

Williams picks up 17-month-old Ashton after the team breaks for the day and by the time Crystal comes home, the little boy is winding down for his 7:30 p.m. bed time. After that, it's time to study.

That's a schedule most student-athlete-parents can identify with. Mix in the occasional illness or late night brought on by a growth spurt, and an 18-hour day might seem like a reprieve.

"You just have to grow up and take care of your responsibilities," Williams said.

For Jackson, the Colorado quarterback, a complicated life became even more difficult when son Jayden was diagnosed with retinoblastoma in his right eye. The cancer forced doctors to remove the boy's eye.

That trauma threw Jackson and his girlfriend, Brenda Burgos, into emotional territory they never expected to travel.

The 21-year-old junior remembers trying to balance studying film and textbooks between trips to the hospital and recuperation time.

A year later, the 2-year-old remains cancer-free in his left eye and the couple feels blessed. Jayden comes to Jackson's football games and likes to hang out at his dad's apartment with teammates.

Jackson wouldn't have it any other way. When he was 12, his brother adopted him and gave him a stable home. He believes Jayden deserves the same.

"There's things that can be taken for granted that I don't take for granted now," Jackson said. "I cherish every minute with my son. I mean, who knows? It's definitely life-changing and humbling, and definitely puts life in perspective."

Arkansas basketball player Danielle Allen knows all about new perspectives -- she's raising 16-month-old son Caden alone.

She asks for little help in juggling all her responsibilities, though her parents live nearby and are available to lend a hand on game day and during road trips.

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