A Family Driven to Succeed

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The spreadsheet is a lifesaver, Kelly Morrison says. Before, she and her husband, Pat, would wake up every morning and plot their strategy. You're taking this kid here, I'm taking that kid there. But now a color-coded piece of paper stuck on the refrigerator has made things simpler -- well, as simple as anything can be with five kids.

Patrick is gold, Bridget's blue, Maggie's red, Brian's light blue and Sean's green -- the colors match their high school or recreational teams. And listed inside each colored box, arranged chronologically, are a name, time, location and a comments section that's usually dedicated to transportation arrangements.

What further complicates the Morrisons' schedule is that their three oldest kids attend different high schools.

Pat and Kelly Morrison wanted their kids to succeed in today's hyper-competitive world of college admissions, so they let each child's interests and abilities in their favorite sport help determine what high school they attended in hopes of enhancing their chances for a scholarship. So far, the strategy is working -- their oldest son has accepted a football scholarship to Wagner College, and their oldest daughter is a coveted Division I lacrosse prospect.

"There are so many options now that it seems like the high school process has become what it was like when we went to college," Kelly Morrison said. "Athletics definitely had a lot to do with where they went, but if they were in band they would have gone where there was a good music program, or anything else."

Patrick Morrison, 18, has been Severna Park's starting quarterback for two years and also plays lacrosse for the Falcons; Bridget, 16, is a star lacrosse defender for St. Mary's-Annapolis and plays field hockey, too; and Maggie, 14, was a varsity starter in basketball, soccer and lacrosse this year as a freshman at Archbishop Spalding.

Fourteen high schools are within a 15-mile radius of the Morrisons' Millersville home. That, combined with their flexible work schedules -- Pat primarily works at home as an account manager for Allied Waste and Kelly is a part-time director of a day care in Annapolis -- make their strategy possible.

To the Morrisons, a frantic schedule and the roughly $75 it costs to fill the family's Ford Expedition -- sometimes twice a day -- seemed like a fair trade for helping their kids get into the college of their choice.

"Sometimes I wonder what it'd be like to go to school with my siblings," Maggie said. "But I don't really think I'd fit in at Severna or St. Mary's. This way we all get to do our own thing, support each other, and have friends across three schools."

It began with Patrick, who as a freshman at St. Mary's-Annapolis asked his parents if he could transfer to a larger school with a more prominent football program.

Both Bridget and Maggie sat in on classes and met with coaches at other schools before Bridget picked St. Mary's and its lacrosse team and Maggie chose Spalding for its larger class size and basketball team. When Brian, 11 and Sean, 8, are old enough, they'll have the same opportunity to pick a high school as their siblings did, both parents say.

"Sports are sort of a means to an end," Pat Morrison said. "It's a way to get into a good [college] for something other than sports while doing something they love. They're learning what it takes to be part of a team, how to manage their time and how to prioritize, too. We were never trying to raise professional athletes."

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