LEARNING: Parent Trap

Missy Sorrell had to buck up and be the strong one.

Her son, Gateway High School junior and football center Devin Johnson, was walking off the field at Aurora Public Schools stadium on Nov. 1, 2012. The Gateway Olympians had just suffered a heartbreaking loss to Regis Jesuit High School, and it was easy for her to see the toll of the loss on her son’s face.

20130724-4826K-Education-0106-CMYK6“They beat us, and Devin came off the field crying,” recalls Missy, immediately using the collective in referring to the loss. It’s hard to imagine this kindly and unassuming redhead finding a spot on the football field. “I just hugged him and asked him if he did the best he could. He told me, ‘Yes,” and I can’t expect anything more from him.”

For a parent like Missy, who has only missed a single game during her son’s entire high school career, that kind of game is more than a spectator sport. Her son’s loss was her own, just as his victories on the field and, more importantly, in the classroom become shared accomplishments.

As Devin enters his senior year at Gateway High School, Missy is bracing herself for one of the hardest losses of her years playing the role of dutiful and attentive parent. Along with Devin, she has seen a daughter through the Aurora Public Schools system. She’s made a point to attend every game, choir concert and band performance, even if it meant taking time off from her job at the University of Colorado Hospital as a medical assistant.

Now, a single school year remains before she’ll have to adjust to a different kind of reality. Her son’s set his sights on attending Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta next year. An honor roll student since his first semester at Gateway, Devin has always made learning a priority, even as he’s explored several sports.

“I’ll cry every day,” she says without pause, her voice cracking with emotion even as she lets out a laugh. “His team took a 13-day trip in June, and every day I struggled with it. It was so quiet.”

That’s not to say that Missy’s years as an active parent in the APS system have been easy, or cheap. There’s the yearly cost of school supplies and, more recently, covering the cost of an important annual rite like prom. Even though Devin works at a local pharmacy and contributed to the cost, last year’s tab for the big dance topped $300.

What’s more, having a kid like Devin who’s active in sports carries a hefty price tag —registration for a single sport is $70 (it’s free after three). He has played basketball, football and run track during his years at Gateway.

But Sorrell, a single mother, has always found a way to cover the costs. When she couldn’t pay immediately one year, the Gateway coaching staff found a way to give her more time.

“I had to ask for them to push back the deadline,” she says. “Coach Justin Hoffman was the athletic director … They just pushed it back.”

That kindness on the part of the staff wasn’t accidental. Missy has become an important part of the community at Gateway High School. She currently serves as the vice president of the booster club; she offers her son’s teammates the same kind of moral support she showed on the field following last year’s loss to Regis.

But she’s also been attentive to the academic side of things. She’s fielded the calls when her son has been late to class. She’s pushed the importance of keeping up the GPA, of making plans beyond football.

“Devin has a plan for the long haul,” she notes.

The network of students, parents and teachers she’s built at Gateway High will help her through the shock she’s expecting next year. She insists she’ll keep going to football games to support her son’s teammates, even if she still has a few things to learn about the sport.

“I know nothing about football,” she admits. “He’s played since he was 9. Now, he’s 17. I know that my son’s the guy in the middle who throws the ball to the quarterback.”

Even so, her lack of gridiron smarts hasn’t kept Missy from chanting and screaming for the Olys during the games, and it hasn’t kept her off the field to offer her son and his football family her full support.

“More parents need to do that,” she says.

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