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Originally published May 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 10, 2009 at 9:52 AM

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Thanks, mom. Seattle athletes and coaches reminisce on Mother's Day

They drove their little athletes to practices and games, baked cookies, encouraged and supported them, and even played one-on-one when necessary.

Seattle Times staff reporter

The jostling for position began the moment the photo shoot started.

"They were arguing to see who could put their head on my shoulder and who would sit next to me," says Valerie Burleson, the mother of four sons who starred in Seattle playing sports. "I was just thinking to myself, 'Man do you guys ever stop?' They are just so competitive with everything."

That's how it is with the Burleson boys and their mom.

Ask her which of her sons is her favorite and she laughs.

"I get that question a lot," she says, smiling. "Each of them gives me something that's special and unique."

Alvin Jr., 31, who played football at Washington, is her strength. She considers Kevin, 29, her heart because the former NBA player knows how to talk to her. Nate, the 26-year-old Seahawks receiver, is God's gift who was so easy to raise, and Lyndale, 23, is her joy because the University of Nevada senior guard was a wonderful surprise when he was born.

Valerie didn't raise them alone. Her husband Al Sr. was there every step of the way.

But this is her day, Mother's Day.

And she's the center of attention. She has been showered with love and affection this week but Nate says, "We can never repay her for what she gave us. But we try."

This Mother's Day is also a melancholy time for Valerie because her mother-in-law Kinzy Mae Burleson, 82, died last Sunday in San Francisco and the family has flown to the Bay Area.

"It's Mother's Day for us, but it starts with the grandmothers," Valerie says. "Sometimes we get so preoccupied with the mothers, but we can't forget about the grandmothers, also.

"If I had to say one thing, I'd like to wish a Happy Mother's Day to the grandmothers and to all of the mothers. It's a hard job or a labor of love as they say, but I've loved every minute of it."

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Mariners first baseman Mike Sweeney on Maureen Sweeney: "Her and my dad brought eight kids into the world and I'm the second-oldest. Something my mom said always spoke volumes to me. She said love is the only thing that can be divided and multiplied at the same time.

"She said every time she had a kid her love was divided, but yet it was multiplied. I thought that was very profound and so true because those words are what my mom lives by. She's the most loving, selfless individual I've ever met in my life. My mom is an angel."

Storm guard Sue Bird on Nancy Bird: "When I was little my mom was the only one who could help me go to sleep when I had trouble. She'd sing me the same song and for whatever reason it was the only thing that worked."

Washington forward Quincy Pondexter on Doris Pondexter: "Me and my mother, we used to go to this playground across the street from my house, it was a high school, and she was a great athlete in her day and my dad was pretty good at basketball. I couldn't quite beat my dad because I was only 12 years old, but me and my mom would have battles. I remember one time we were playing basketball and she was muscling me up and she was talking a little trash. It got to a point where I got mad and threw the ball over the fence. She said, 'You know what, I love that fire. That's what's going to make you successful one day. Just keep that fire in everything you do, especially your schoolwork and you'll be successful.'

"She didn't get mad. We got home. She would tell all of her friends that she saw something special in me. I'll never forget the competitiveness my mom gave me as a kid. For her not to let me win was something truly remarkable. If a mother is not going to let you win in basketball, that's pretty crazy. A week later she took me to Disneyland because I was doing better at school and we had a blast."

Sounders FC goalkeeper Kasey Keller on Deter Walker: "At 14 or 15 I started traveling from Olympia to Federal Way for my club team and state team and for me to do that, it took dedication from a parent to drive me to where I needed to be. I'm very indebted to my mother for making that commitment to give me the opportunity to play for a better team and showcase myself better and be better as a player.

"That's literally driving hours upon hours. It's getting off work and taking me to practice or weekends going up to Seattle on Saturdays and back on Sundays for another game. It takes a commitment that not all parents would be willing to do."

Franklin High School guard Peyton Siva on Yvette Gaston: "She's like my air. That's how important she is. She's more important than air to me. My mom has been there since forever. She never lets anything happen to me. She still treats me like her baby today."

Sounders FC defender Taylor Graham on Gail Graham and teammate Roger Levesque's mom Prisca: "The last two years of college, my mom as well as Roger's mom — Roger's from Maine, I'm from California and we both went to Stanford — and they came to every single one of our college matches wherever we traveled. Whether it was at Dartmouth, whether it was at UW or whether it was at Stanford, they were at every single one of our matches. And my mom was there with two giant shoe boxes full of cookies."

Tanda Charters on UW softball player Ashley Charters: "To this day I am still surprised that I got a little girl after seven boys in the immediate Charters family. From day one Ashley endured ribbons and bows and lace and fancy hair. Every morning while she sat in her high chair or at the counter eating her breakfast I would style her hair, crimping, curling and ribbons. I always had a drawer in the kitchen with all the accessories handy since that was the only place I could get her to sit still.

"I had a ball until she was about in the third grade, but Ashley just remembers all the crimped hair."

Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant on Constance Trufant: "Every year since I can remember — my birthday is on Christmas — my mom would wake up and she'd cook breakfast the whole buffet style. She'd wake up early and I'd have everything laid out on the table by the time I got up and we'd just do the family thing. It didn't have to be a whole bunch of kids and toys and stuff, but it was always about that family. Everybody getting together and enjoying each other."

Cheryl Lawrie on UW softball pitcher Danielle Lawrie: "Before travel ball was to become a way of life, we used to summer vacation at Shuswap Lake in Sorrento, B.C. For three weeks, Danielle and her brother Brett would enjoy camping, water sports and making new friends. When Danielle was 10, she put together a singing group to copy the Spice Girls. Danielle and her girlfriends put on a show for the entire camp and I must say it was quite spectacular.

"All the girls could sing and they wound up surprising all campus. But of course, Danielle produced the show and took charge, and she can actually sing!"

Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu on Linnea Garcia: "She was a personal trainer, certified and everything and when I got to eighth grade, she'd met some people in boxing and she got me in the gym and I was training to be a boxer four times a week from eighth grade up until my sophomore year. If it weren't for worrying about breaking a hand, which I did playing football, I'd probably be back in that boxing gym. I never got to compete or fight in public, but I enjoyed it a lot.

"She had a very big influence on the things I did and just becoming a better player. I didn't know it at the time, but everything she did for me it made me a better player. My lateral movement, I'm not the fastest, but if you see me on film I'm one of the quickest and that comes from boxing and being around the gym and jumping rope. To this day I jump rope all the time."

Washington guard Isaiah Thomas on Bettina Baldtrip: "Saturday and Sunday morning breakfasts, they can't get any better than at my mom's house. It's been special ever since I was little. That weekend morning, either Saturday or Sunday, my mom is going to be cooking. It's just a meal that nobody else can make as good as she does. It's French toast, eggs and bacon. I eat other people's eggs and sometimes other people's bacon, but I can't eat anybody else's French toast. Hers is just the best ever. I've tried other people's French toast, but not anymore. I only eat French toast when she makes it."

Franklin boys basketball coach Jason Kerr on Linda Thornton: "She worked at O'Dea for like 28 years or something like that. She's been that walking example for me all this time in terms of working with kids and helping kids out. Watching her so many times put other kids in front of herself and give up all of her time and all of her energy, I kind of follow in her footsteps."

Sounders FC defender James Riley on Chong Horton: "I get my work ethic and determination from her. She's always laughing, and my nickname is Giggles, so she probably had something to do with that. We definitely had good times. She used to work late nights and I would be up when she came home and we'd go on the back deck and just talk. We'd have some watermelon and just hang out with our dog."

Seahawks receiver Nate Burleson on Valerie Burleson: "My elementary [school] was literally right in front of my house and I would walk across the street to go home and my mom would be there every day cooking me an egg sandwich for I don't know how many years. Like maybe 12 years. Egg sandwiches are my favorite meal. Even to this day I will go to my mom's house and sit back and turn into that little boy who just got out of school and I'm like, 'Mom, can I get an egg sandwich?' And she's like, 'OK.' And my wife is like, 'You're so spoiled.' "

Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck on Betsy Hasselbeck: "In theory, I had like the cool mom because she was so young, but she was so much more strict from the other moms that I knew. She was hard on us growing up. Three boys. Very strict.

"My mom and I were pretty similar. As a child, we probably went at it more because we're so alike. At my house, growing up, we got spanked. My dad, who was 6 feet 8, 255 and a big guy, you'd always want to get spanked by my dad because he was so big he wasn't sure how hard he should go. But my mom, she's little, she's like 5-5, she would just whack you. You'd never want to get spanked by my mom."

Mariners designated hitter Ken Griffey Jr. on Birdie Griffey: "I'm probably closer to my mom. People just saw me with my dad a lot, but my dad has always said you've only got one mom and you take care of her. When I'm not here, you're the man.

"When I was 7 years old I can still remember that conversation of him telling me you're the man until I got in trouble. My mom wanted me to do something and I said, 'I ain't doing it,' and she said, 'Why?' and I said, 'Because I'm the man.' And she just plain just got me."

Mariners pitcher Ryan Rowland-Smith on Julie White: "My parents are separated, and in Australia no one is into baseball. My dad was really into rugby and I remember when I said I wanted to play baseball — I was 12 years old — and I was so scared. My mom said, 'Do whatever you want.' Whatever it takes to make sure I'm able to get to training sessions she did it. She drove me two hours to Sydney and back, so four hours, three times a week, just to get good coaching. She's the reason why I'm here right now."

Storm forward Swin Cash on Cynthia Cash: "When I was a little girl, my mom ... was always called my sister instead of my mother by everyone. She was the first real-life superwoman I had ever met! My mom was my role model and best friend. She taught me the importance of character by how she lived her life every day."

Seahawks receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh on Deborah Johnson: "If you ask for it and she's got it, she'll give it to you, whether it's her last or not. If it's her last whatever and you ask, 'Mom let me get that' or 'Mom, I need this,' she'll give it to you. That to me, I'll always remember that.

"Even if it wasn't me or one of my other brothers and they ask mom, 'I need $20,' if it's her last $20, she'll give it to you. That to me is what mothers do, because I look at it as she's willing to take away from herself to give to us. Other stuff doesn't really matter to me as far as her doing this and doing that. But for her to give up things for us, whether it's her last or not, I like that about her."

Esther Burse on Storm center Janell Burse: "When Janell was a child, she would help me with the baking and demand to lick the batter out of the bowl ... she was just adorable."

Washington men's basketball coach Lorenzo Romar on Dorothy Romar: "My mother is an avid music lover. My earliest memory of her is when she would dance around the house."

Seahawks rookie linebacker Aaron Curry on Chris Curry: "I remember the time when we got evicted from our house and how strong she was. It made me realize she was stronger than I ever thought. That eviction was hard on us as a family and she never gave up on us and we never gave up on her. That just showed to me the power of a woman. That really motivated me. Her strength as a woman and as a person really motivated me to be strong as a person. I was 19 or 20 when that happened. She just saw the big picture. She told us not to worry and everything would be OK. She guaranteed that it would, and now we're doing better than ever."

Gale Schaaf on Washington cross-country runner Kendra Schaaf: "Her coach recommended that she race at the Canadian cross-country junior nationals. We were not crazy about the idea, but her coach insisted that it would be good experience for her. Kendra wanted to know what her reward would be for racing well at nationals. We told her we would give her $1,000 if she finished in the top 10.

"We thought she would be lucky to finish in the top 50 against Canada's top junior runners, who were competing to make the World team. Well, Kendra finished fifth and the first thing she did after crossing the finish line was phone and tell us we owed her $1,000. There were no more monetary rewards after that race."

Sounders FC defender Tyrone Marshall on Gloria Marshall: "On Sundays she'd always have us over for a dinner for some rice and beans, just a typical Jamaican dinner. We'd reminisce and talk about good times. When Sunday comes around, I kind of get a little tingle in my stomach because you miss those days. Sometimes she'll call me up and say, 'I'm thinking about you.' "

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com. Interviews were conducted in person, by phone or via e-mail. Some e-mail interviews were conducted through media-relations staffs.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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