Armon Barnes’s college acceptance and scholarship award letters fill up several expandable file folders.

“I had to alphabetize them to keep them in order,” the 17-year-old said.

Armon, who graduated Saturday from Brooke Point High School in Stafford, has been accepted to a total of 29 colleges. That’s three times more than the average of five to eight suggested by The College Board.

Among the schools to which he’s been accepted are Christopher Newport, Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, University of Pittsburgh, Michigan State, University of Kentucky—which got a solid “no” from Armon, because he’s a Duke basketball fan—Roanoke College, Radford University, George Mason University, University of Mary Washington, Marymount University and Mary Baldwin University.

Not only do these schools want Armon, they also want to pay for him to attend. To date, he’s racked up almost $2.1 million in scholarship offers.

Armon started applying to colleges in September and got his first acceptance letter in November from Wingate University, a Baptist school in North Carolina. The school offered him a scholarship of $25,500, renewable each year for a total of $102,000.

“I thought I would just see what my other options were, so I just kept applying and applying,” Armon said. “These scholarships are available to anyone who wants them.”

Armon’s success comes after a difficult year for his family.

In March 2018, a heavy windstorm caused a tree branch to fall through the roof of the house his family had rented for eight years.

“It knocked the house off the foundation,” Armon’s mother, Anitra Barnes, said.

The family of five—parents Anitra and Michael, older sister Mercedes and grandfather Kenneth Slabaugh—lived in a single hotel room for a month before learning they would not be able to return to the house.

“It was very cramped; we felt like sardines,” Armon said.

While they were in the hotel, Mercedes had to have emergency gallbladder surgery, Slabaugh contracted the flu and the rest of the family—except for Armon—came down with bronchitis.

“Everybody got sick and he was taking care of all of us,” Anitra Barnes said. “It was a very trying time.”

A few months later, Michael Barnes, a retired Marine, lost his job at a security firm. He was out of work for the rest of the year and into this year.

“It showed that you gotta have all your ducks in a row, because it only takes one accident,” he said.

The close-knit family supported each other through these difficulties and Armon was able to maintain his focus on his grades and extracurricular activities, which included membership in the National Honors Society and being student representative to the Brooke Point Parent Teacher Student Organization.

“You just have to keep moving and don’t look back,” Armon said of getting through a hard year. “The world doesn’t stop.”

After touring several schools over spring break, Armon decided which of the 29 offers he would accept, but kept his choice a secret from his friends and teachers until the graduation party his parents threw for him Saturday.

That’s when he announced that he’ll attend UMW this fall. He chose the school for its strong psychology program and because he can continue living at home to save money.

He’s received $10,280 for UMW in the form of scholarships, grants and a loan, and only needs about $2,000 more to cover his first year.

He also plans to work to help pay for his tuition.

Armon said he plans to major in psychology with the goal of pursuing a career as a sports psychologist.

Sports psychologists work with teams or individual athletes to help them improve their performance. They can also work with athletes who are rehabilitating from injuries.

Armon loves basketball and used to play for a recreational league until he tore his ACL—something else that happened in 2018. The injury meant he had to give up the sport.

“It was hard for my mindset,” he said. “Now I want to help other athletes come back from that. It takes a lot to get used to living with a torn ACL.”

Armon’s advice to high school students is to study hard for the SAT, be well-rounded and have a plan.

“Figure out what are the steps you really have to take to get where you really want to go,” he said.

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Adele Uphaus–Conner: 540/735-1973 auphaus@freelancestar.com @flsadele