CRAWFORD | The inspiring story behind a surprise scholarship at Bellarmine
Nobody recruited Michael Parrish out of Fern Creek Traditional High School, but he convinced Bellarmine coaches to let him walk on. Monday night, they rewarded him with a scholarship.
Tuesday, January 13th 2015, 1:37 AM EST
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Deborah Thompson is not a sit-around-and-wait type person. She knew the neighborhood wasn't going to raise her kids when their father was incarcerated.
Sometimes she didn't know much else. When she had to run an extension cord from a neighbor's house for power, or when she had to haul water from someone else's place until she could get her family's back on, she wasn't thinking about down the road. As a single mother raising three children in Louisville's Newburg neighborhood and later Fern Creek, she just knew she couldn't rest.
She knew her children either were going to wind up fighting in the streets or she was going to fight for them.
She fought. She worked multiple jobs. She got involved at her kids' schools. She got to be on a first-name basis with their principals. They knew her at the central office. They knew her around the community.
“Yes, there were times I thought, ‘This is just not going to happen. How am I going to pull this off?'” Thompson said Monday.
She said those words after an unexpected evening.
Her middle son, Michael Parrish, is a 5-foot-8 junior guard for Bellarmine University's basketball team. It's not cheap. He has been a walk-on for two seasons. Tuition and fees alone are just over $36,000 for one year. Half his mother's life, it seems, has been paperwork, for grants, loans, whatever she could get.
“You don't think about it,” she said when I asked her about the debt and if it worried her. “All you know is you've got some options. You've got the good or great options, or you've got the options that are going to happen out there. And you don't want the ones out there. . . . Because there's a whole lot of wolves ready to eat you up.”
On Monday night, in Roosters restaurant on Shelbyville Road, she and Michael showed up for a taping of Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport's TV show. It was a pretty routine segment. Michael sat next to the coach, and would read the question of the week.
As they began to tape the segment, Davenport handed Parrish a piece of paper that instead of a question contained this message, which Parrish read aloud, “You are now a Bellarmine scholarship athlete, you earned it and I am proud of you, love Coach Davenport.”
The next few seconds, mother and son were both stunned. Neither had any idea it was coming. Then Thompson got up out of the crowd and went to her son's side. And Davenport celebrated a victory that won't show up on the team's won-lost record.
“I like what this shows the community,” Davenport said. “And kids in this community.”
“It' been hard,” Thompson said. “I've cried and I've bit my fingernails off and I've worked two or three jobs and I've did just about everything possible to make it happen for him.”
Then she started to jump up and down. “Now I can be happy,” she said. “I'm a happy mama.”
“She should be,” Parrish said. “She has a right. What we've been through as a family, with her trying to raise three kids on her own. . . . I haven't had a dad in the home since I was a little kid. Our struggles have been from top to bottom. She was a constant presence, a constant reminder not to follow in my dad's footsteps.”
There are people in life who have earned a right to be heard. I asked Deborah Thompson how she has done it.
“If you're for the right things, and you are working toward a goal of doing the right things, the chances of you having a positive outcome are in your favor,” she said. “I didn't go out and run around and leave the kids at home with a bunch of babysitters. I had them. So I have to sit home and rock them. But that doesn't mean sit home and rock them and live off the system. It means get up, get moving, and that's the way it is. Up and down, up and down, up and down, but I kept it moving, and I'm going to continue to keep it moving, because I don't have any choice in the matter. Now I need them to do what they need to do to take care of me.”
She laughed as she said that last sentence.
“I've been on my own, for most of their lives,” she said. “Basically it's because the way that I wanted to navigate, if you're not going to navigate the way I want to, then you have to get on another boat. Because this boat is going to sail forward. That's the way I did it, and that's the way it worked out.”
Parrish was a good player coming out of high school, but wasn't highly sought after, mainly because of his height.
His mother was determined that basketball wouldn't get in the way of more important things. She pulled him out of Monday practices during high school to attend a 10-week ACT preparation course.
But Thompson said she could tell there was no chance of him going away to school, because he didn't want to move away from her. So she told him he better get up and get moving.
“I told him, if that's what you're about, you go down to Bellarmine and prove you can play ball,” she said. “You been going to camps there since you were a little thing.”
That's what he did. And persistence paid off.
“He recruited us,” Davenport said. “They were adamant about wanting to come to Bellarmine, and I went to watch him play, and I thought, he's not going to be able to play for us. But over the summer he kept coming around and kept coming around and kept coming around, and I said, we're not going to deny anybody the chance to walk on.
“His intestinal fortitude and his drive convinced us we had everything to gain and nothing to lose. So I said, let's try to help a young person. And it's evolved. Honestly for two years, he was cute little Mike. Now he's a good player. He's helping this team.”
Parrish is averaging 12 1/2 minutes per game. He's dishing out 1.5 assists per contest. He's applying impressive defensive pressure.
He meets with Davenport weekly to talk about academic progress. Davenport is hoping the scholarship further motivates him in that area.
“The coach side of me is that I hope it puts more pressure on him academically, to be in the academic resource center more, to do more work in the writing lab,” Davenport said. “That's good pressure. What I've done, I've removed some of the stress out of his life.”
Parrish said he'd hoped for this day, but hadn't figured it was coming anytime soon.
“Some things you just have to have faith on,” he said. “I didn't know where it was going to come from or how. I just thank God for the opportunity, and coach Davenport for this belief he has had in me. . . . I wanted to stay home to support my mom, and I wanted to play for a guy who I knew would give me a chance to prove myself. Now look at me.”
Yes, look. Not every success story in college basketball ends with a handshake from the NBA commissioner. More often, it unlocks classroom doors and opportunities that nobody in the public sees.
In some ways, the scholarship he got Monday, for Michael Parrish, is bigger than winning the lottery.
Deborah Thompson, whose oldest son graduated from Jeffersontown High School and whose younger daughter is carrying a 3.75 grade-point average as a sophomore at the University of Kentucky, life is good, but she isn't about to let up. Amid a flurry of layoffs, she enrolled in school herself, got an Associate's Degree, then her Bachelor of Arts. She's a substitute teacher in the Jefferson County Public Schools and is working to get certified for full-time service through the district's ACES program for alternative certification. Given the message she brings, I'd say she should be hired. Yesterday.
Nor with his scholarship in hand will she relax when it comes to her son.
“Don't let me down now,” she said before headed back to campus. “Now I'll really be watching.”
Among the crowd at the show were Bellarmine administrators, its financial aid director, other advisors, many who played unseen roles in preparing the scholarship offer. On Monday, they all did a good thing.
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