Sunday, March 20, 2005

Focusing on her family

Virginia Tech's Roshana Jackson is enjoying life as a Hokie basketball player and as a mother.

Berman Courtside

Roshana Jackson could actually feel her future crumbling.

Her dreams of college and a Division I basketball scholarship were dissolving in tears as she and her friends huddled in her bedroom that early spring evening in 2002. Jackson, a defending state sprint and hurdle champion and the 2001 Group A basketball player of the year, had just discovered she was pregnant.

"I took it hard," she said. "I thought, 'What am I going to do?' This is over."

Then Jackson's mother stepped in.

"I said, 'Why are you crying? You are not the first and you won't be the last,'" Roslyn Jackson said. "I said, 'You are still going to college, you are still going to play basketball.'"

There were plenty more tears to be shed but Roslyn Jackson, herself a single mother of two, was right.

Now a junior at Virginia Tech, Roshana Jackson averages 14.4 minutes a game off the bench for the Hokies. Two weeks ago, her 2 1/2 -year-old son Traven was straining against the railing at the Greensboro Coliseum cheering for his mommy as she and the rest of the Hokies played in the ACC tournament.

"She just had too much going for her, a lot of people counted her out," Roslyn Jackson said. "I never counted her out."

Roshana Jackson used to love running. Give her a moment of free time and she would lace up and take off on a four-mile loop around downtown Norton.

"I would just run for no reason," she said. "I just liked to run."

As a high school junior, Roshana won Virginia Group A championships in both the 400-meter sprint and the 200 hurdles.

So the next year when volleyball season ended and she strapped on her spiked shoes for track practice, she was surprised to find teammates dashing past her. Something was wrong. '

"All of a sudden she was all gung-ho playing softball," Roslyn Jackson said. "It was softball, softball, softball. I thought, 'OK, something's wrong here.' Her whole persona, her body started changing."

Roslyn Jackson sat Roshana down and started asking questions about her sexual activity. What she learned sent her down the street to Wal-Mart for a pregnancy test.

Sure enough, though her athlete's body and teenage naivete had hidden from her for 5 1/2 months, Roshana was pregnant. She was so far along that on her first trip to the doctor, the very next day, she had an ultrasound and learned that her baby was a boy.

Then she had to call all of her track and softball teammates and coaches to let them know she wouldn't be competing, and also all the college coaches who had been recruiting her.

"It was awful," Roshana said.

Some coaches, including those at Tennessee, quit calling. Bonnie Henrickson, then the coach at Virginia Tech, kept in touch.

Roslyn Jackson, who had gotten help from her mother and grandmother when she had Roshana and her son Antony, made sure Roshana's life didn't change too much.

"All she missed was one season of track and softball," Roslyn said. "She still went to prom, she still walked across that stage" at graduation.

Academics had always been important to Roshana, and she was an A and B student at Appalachia High School. But she couldn't get the SAT or ACT scores to qualify to play right away for a Division I school, and had to go instead to Hiwassee College, a two-year school in Madisonville, Tenn.

On July 25, 2002, Roshana's son was born. He was 8 pounds, 13 ounces and 21 1/2 inches long. She had agonized over a name until "Traven" came to her in a dream.

Three weeks later, Roshana had to move into a dorm room three hours away from home.

"I just sat on the bed holding him and cried and cried and cried," she said. "My mother and godmother set everything up. They set my whole room up. ... He was so tiny in that carrier."

Traven stayed in Norton with his grandmother, visiting every once in a while when Roslyn Jackson had days off from her job with the Flatwoods Job Corps.

"So many people take care of him. My mom and brother, my aunt and uncle, his baby sitter," Roshana said. "I think that's why he's so friendly: he's met a hundred different types of people."

Looking back, Roshana said she wouldn't have traded junior college for anything.

"I made four or five really close friends," Roshana said. "I matured a lot."

After junior college, Roshana decided to go Tech, especially because it is only 2 1/2 hours from Norton and Traven can visit nearly every home game. She talks to Traven on the phone daily, but still misses seeing him.

"My mother and my brother know more about him than I do," she said. "But what I'm doing is laying a foundation for him, and for me."

Roslyn Jackson said the separation is harder on Roshana than on Traven.

"He's had no trauma," she said. "As long as he knows he can see his momma whenever, he's fine. There ain't nobody like his momma. He's friendly with everybody, but when he sees her he doesn't want nothing to do with nobody else."

Roshana said because she is young and can run around and play games with Traven, "I'm just a fun mom." But that doesn't mean she's not a tough mom.

"I do whoop him, he hates to share," Roshana said. "But we play tag and run and even sometimes we'll go to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart is his favorite store.

"He's not a bad kid, he listens. He's a good baby. He don't make me want to kill him."

She has had to learn patience.

"When I was ready to go, I wanted to get up and go," Roshana Jackson said. "Now, it's like I'm ready to go, and then we've got to get the car seat and the diaper bag and pullups and sippy cups."

Her body has changed, too.

"I used to be 160 pounds," said the 6-foot-1 junior forward. "I could lose weight so easily. Now it's so hard. If I could go back to 160 pounds I'd be so happy. I'm not bad now. I'm just real thick."

Roshana worked her way into Tech's starting lineup early in the season, but has since dropped into a reserve roll. She averages 4.4 points and 2.8 rebounds a game, and has blocked 17 shots.

Roshana hopes to one day be a coach, but she is majoring in human services, preparing for a career in social work. She even made the dean's list in her first semester at Tech.

"They sent a letter. It was addressed to her but it came to me, so I opened it," Rosyln Jackson said. "I brought tears to my eyes. I had to take it to work and show everyone.

"I said, 'This is my baby.'"