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The U.S. Dream Academy, a non-profit serving academically struggling students and those with incarcerated parents, sponsored a panel discussion May 12 on Capitol Hill. The groups invited mothers of four of the top athletes in the nation to discuss the parenting strategies that led to their children’s success.

Wanda Pratt, mother of NBA star Kevin Durant; Jacqueline Griffin, mother of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III; Deborah Phelps, mother of Olympic-medal swimmer Michael Phelps; and Shonda Ingram, the mother of New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram Jr. participated in the discussion.

“We have asked these moms to share the challenges and the opportunities of parenting exceptional young men,” U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) said. “Moms play the most important role in regards to the success of young people. We have no young people to leave in the shadows; we need young people in the sunshine.”

Phelps said that she raised her famous son, and her two daughters, the way she was brought up.  “Values are the most important thing,” she said. “I let my children learn from their mistakes and give them a hug when they need it.”

Jacqueline Griffin is the mother of Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III

Griffin said that with her husband, Robert Griffin Jr., excellence was stressed to her three children, including the Redskins’ star player.

“We taught our children to finish whatever you start and have high expectations of yourself,” Griffin said. “We raised God-fearing, productive children so that they can be productive citizens that will give back to society and not just take.”

Wanda Pratt, mother of NBA star Kevin Durant

Ingram said she is still parenting her son’s younger siblings and raises her prominent son without his father for most of his formative years. “Mark’s father, Mark Ingram, has been incarcerated a lot,” she said. “He comes in from being incarcerated and then he goes back. That was tough to deal with and it has been my faith in God that has pulled me.”

Pratt said the strict upbringing of her two sons, Kevin and his older brother, Tony, has been the key to their success. “I was the authority in my home,” Pratt, who raised her children in Seat Pleasant, Md., said. “I took that attitude early on because I was a young single mother. In my life, God was first, my sons were second and I came third.”

All of the women stressed the importance of education, with Griffin saying she rewarded good grades with money, Pratt having her sons give a book report to her each week, and Phelps, a former classroom teacher and present administrator in the Baltimore County school system, engaging her children’s teachers.

Ingram stressed to her children that they should always do their best in school and Pratt said she made it clear to her sons that the “teacher is the authority in the classroom.”

“I didn’t want to hear anything about the teacher not liking me or anything like that,” she said. “Your job in the classroom is to learn.”
Phelps and Griffin had the same approach when it came to dealing with coaches. “I followed the ‘stay in your lane’ rule,” Phelps said. “I didn’t try to coach my son but I did communicate with coaches when I felt I had to.”

Griffin agrees with Phelps. “The coach is the expert in that sport and I encouraged my children to do what they are asked to do on the field or on the track,” she said.