Mom and Dad in huddle, too

Colleges: Recognizing parents' natural concerns and the role they play in their offspring's choice of colleges, athletic programs have widened their pitches.

High Schools

August 07, 2002|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN STAFF

When college coaches come courting football whiz Ambrose Wooden in person next month, the encounter will be like an episode of the new TV show Meet My Folks - with a recruiting twist.

UCLA, Notre Dame and Maryland lead a bevy of suitors lining up to ask for Wooden's hand.

And arm. And legs.

In some cases, the schools are trying to enlist the parents of the Gilman School quarterback in their overtures. Northwestern University sent Wooden's mom a Mother's Day card. Penn State dispatched news clips trumpeting its football alumni's success in business.

Colleges maneuver for advantage as they pursue talented high school players who appear to be the right fit for their rosters. The massive process, involving 238 Division I programs, culminates on National Letter of Intent Signing Day next February.

Coaches know parents are an athlete's sounding board during the recruiting whirl of the senior year. In Wooden's case, the ones to woo are Ambrose Wooden Sr. and Robin Petty. Staunchly middle class, they're agog at the proposals being offered their son, four-year scholarships worth $100,000 or more.

The elder Wooden drives an MTA bus; Petty is an account analyst for an insurance company. The couple is divorced. He lives in Randallstown; she, in an East Baltimore row home with the couple's three children - Ambrose Jr., 16-year-old Channel, a student at Dunbar High, and Juan, 29.

Injured in a hit-and-run accident three years ago, Juan was left with disabilities that still require daily monitoring. But his slow recovery won't affect her younger son's college decision, his mother says.

"Ambrose knows I've got this matter covered," Petty says. "Juan is my responsibility. He might be Ambrose's responsibility one day, when my eyes are closed, but I'm not going to put that [burden] on him now."

Both parents have their son's ear as he mulls over his college choices, along with his coaches at Gilman. As summer ends and football practice begins, it's time to trim the list of schools from 14 to a half-dozen, says Keith Kormanik, a Gilman assistant. Parents, player and coaches are all getting together to do that.

The coaching staff at the private school in north Baltimore have come to know the parents well in Wooden's four years there.

"His father was a good athlete, but he never tells Ambrose to do things this or that way. He lets us [coaches] do our job," Kormanik says. "His mother loves the kid to death. We have her on film, leaping in the end zone after Ambrose scored a touchdown at St. Paul's School. It's an unbelievable vertical jump; she must be 36 inches off the ground.

"We thought about signing her up."

Parents bring personal expectations and recollections to their side of the recruiting process. His father pulled the highly touted senior aside and reminded, "Wherever you go to school - Duke, Virginia Tech, Stanford - you're going in luxury."

Lest his son forget, Ambrose Sr. regales him with spartan tales of his own playing days as a second-string defensive back at Morgan State. How, 30 years ago, he and teammates shared everything from helmets to beds and routinely traveled by bus.

His son's response: "Wow."

"Once, we took a prop plane to Mississippi, though it didn't have seats. We sat on pillows on the floor of the plane," the elder Wooden says.

"There, we played Jackson State, in [Hall of Famer] Walter Payton's senior year. He ran clean over me, left his footprints on my chest."

A Baltimore native, Ambrose Sr. commuted to college; his son is being pursued by distant institutions such as the University of Southern California, 3,000 miles away.

"If he goes to [school on] the West Coast, his mom will be upset," Ambrose Sr. said. "Even when he goes down the ocean, she gets a little worried. But we've instilled values in him. We trust him."

Wooden, 18, has spent a week in Ocean City on a last-minute vacation before returning to make some choices with lifelong impact. His mother has thoughts on how best to do that.

"Ambrose knows his decision is about academics," Petty says. "That's been drilled into his head. Get hurt in football and you still must provide for your family down the road."

Like most of his peers, Wooden has not yet settled on a career track. Business, perhaps. Or dentistry. Or law. Whatever his major, Petty says, "I want [the coaches] to think about every part of his life - to see he gets up and goes to class and gets tutored. I want them to be right on top of him.

"They're going to take my place; they're going to be `Robin,' she says. "I want a coach to say, `Miss Petty, we'll take Ambrose under our wing on weekends and feed him a home-cooked meal.' "

Her concerns, and those of other parents of touted student-athletes, are very real, experts say.

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