Friday, April 1, 2011

On Skeens' biggest basketball day, humility

Be humble, she’s told her children. On good days and on challenging days. Because both will come.

Stay humble, Jackie Skeen says to each of the four, but especially lately to her son, Jamie.

He is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University, the best basketball player on a team that has made an unlikely run to Saturday’s NCAA Final Four in Houston. His week has been a swirl of interviews and autographs and attention like he’s never known.

It is, says Jackie, wonderful to see her son rewarded for his talent and work. But she and her husband, Eric, also have told him to remain the Jamie that they know, no matter what happens this weekend.

It’s the lesson they’ve stressed forever in the Skeen house, after school and after church. But humility isn’t always the easiest concept to explain. How do you show your child what that means, when you already live in humble surroundings?

This is how:

Jackie Skeen is a preschool staff member at Gateway Academy in the University area of north Charlotte. Her husband, Eric, is a cable technician, and her mother, Rosa, was a schoolteacher. "She also taught children how to sew and how to sing," Jackie remembers. "She loved the energy from young people when they learned."

Jackie and Eric’s four children were raised to consider education important. In 2005, when their oldest, Angelica, was about to graduate from North Mecklenburg High School, Jackie was tutoring students there. The next year, Angelica attended Western Carolina with the help of academic scholarships.

Then Jamie, a star basketball player who won a state championship at North Meck, earned a full ride at Wake Forest. Jackie and Eric, who had expected to take out loans and help pay for their children’s college education, found themselves unexpectedly without that burden.

It was, Jackie says, a blessing - and with that surprise they decided to bless others. They started a scholarship fund, giving one North Mecklenburg student $500 to attend college. The next year, with the help of their church, New Birth Charlotte, they funded two.

They’ve since kept the scholarships going with fundraisers - car washes, raffles, attic sales. This year has been difficult, with everyone’s budgets strained, but the Skeens are pushing forward. They’ll be holding a basketball camp soon, with Jamie helping as always.

Except this year, he’ll be Jamie Skeen, Final Four participant - or better.

"This week has been crazy," says Jackie, beaming. Her phone is buzzing constantly. She has dozens of Facebook messages that she will answer as soon as she figures out how to use Facebook.

It’s also a joy for her to see Jamie and his team everywhere - in newspapers, on TV - because he has had his ups and downs. From being a top national high school player to learning that Wake Forest wasn’t a fit academically or socially - to now.

They talked to Jamie before everyone left for Houston. They wished him luck, then Jackie reminded him that the rest of the school year awaits. "She’s very special to me because she keeps me level-headed," Jamie told the Observer this week, "and she keeps me grounded."

This is what humility is, Jackie knows. Not something you decide on when you’ve found your best moment, but an acknowledgement that you don’t always control those highs - or how long you can hold onto them.

Be humble. Jackie nods. "That’s who Jamie is," she says. The star recruit who didn’t hold a press conference when he chose a college to play ball. The young man who will be home soon, blowing a whistle at a basketball camp, giving like his mom and dad, no different on the best week of their lives than any other.