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Chaix Too Busy Competing to Choose One Sport

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Kids are no sooner out of the crib these days than they’re expected to make the decision.

What’s it gonna be?

Football? Baseball? Basketball?

Soccer? Tennis? Golf?

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What? You’re already 4 years old and you haven’t selected the one sport you’ll devote your life to? Don’t you know the kid down the street is already skyhooking his stuffed animals into the diaper pail?

Pick one sport and stick with it, babe. You’ll never get anywhere if you play all the games in town.

Specialization, it seems, is here to stay. The three-sport athlete is a dying breed. Even two sports are too many for those who believe the only way to a scholarship or pro contract is to play one sport year-round.

But don’t say the S-word to Tim Chaix. The poor boy has heard it enough.

Chaix (pronounced shay) is a sophomore at Foothill High School. Last fall, he was the starting quarterback on the varsity football team. This spring, he was among the top swimmers in the Southern Section.

Wait a minute. Football and swimming? Sounds like the peanut butter pizza of sports combinations.

Chaix admits it’s an unlikely match.

“I can only think of one similarity,” Chaix says. “Both sports use the same arm style. When you swim freestyle, it’s sort of the same arm motion as throwing a football.”

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Right. And kicking a field goal is like stubbing your toe. But anyway. . . .

Chaix started swimming 11 years ago at the age of 5. By the time he got to high school, he was one of the top age-group swimmers on his club team, Southern California Aquatics.

As a ninth-grader, Chaix established himself as the fastest freshman in Foothill’s rich swimming history. Tom DeLong, who has coached Foothill’s swim team for 26 years, was thrilled, but wary. Chaix could be Foothill’s next big star, though DeLong knew it wouldn’t happen if Chaix was spending half the year in shoulder pads instead of Speedos.

Or if Chaix got hurt.

When Chaix became the starting quarterback as a sophomore last fall--he replaced senior Evan Lange, who broke his thumb in the season opener--DeLong couldn’t bring himself to go to a game. He didn’t want to see Chaix get crunched.

“I was just happy to see him walking on Mondays,” DeLong said.

It was not the school’s most sparkling football season. Although Chaix played well, throwing only four interceptions in nearly 100 passes, the Knights finished 2-8. Chaix says the team was young and inexperienced. He should know.

DeLong, a diver and football player in high school and college in the ‘50s, says Chaix will have a tough time being the best swimmer he can be if he keeps playing football, but he’s not pushing Chaix to drop it. “The world does not live or die in swimming,” DeLong says. “Life’s just a bank of memories and we’ve got to make those memories as fun as possible.”

And fun is what Chaix sees in his two-sport package.

“I like swimming because of its competitiveness,” says Chaix, a soft-spoken straight-A student. “But football has all that excitement, the rivalries, the crowds. . . .”

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Hey, wait a minute. Friday night’s Southern Section 4-A swim championships were pretty exciting. The Belmont Plaza Pool complex was packed with rowdy, screaming fans. There were cheerleaders. A trumpeter played the national anthem. Even the 1991 Rose Parade queen showed up dressed to kill to present a carnation to each finisher.

Chaix finished second in the consolation 100-yard butterfly and 100 freestyle. Although he wasn’t displeased with his performances--he swam a personal-best of 52.79 seconds in the butterfly--he says he knows he can do better. As does his coach.

On the bus ride home, DeLong sat with Chaix and told him about a former Foothill swimmer who also played basketball. His name was Steve Furniss. Although he was an above-average swimmer, Furniss loved basketball and thought about quitting swimming.

DeLong talked him out of it and Furniss went on to become an NCAA champion for USC, a two-time Olympian and world record-holder.

The message is not lost on Chaix--or his swimming teammates. They often try to persuade Chaix to give up football. But he usually says little in response.

That’s understandable; Chaix has his mind on sports.

Not one, but two.

Barbie Ludovise’s column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Readers may reach Ludovise by writing The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa 92626 or by calling 966-5847.

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