Cool in the Cage


Except for the absence of glasses, Tim Birdsong reminds you of a teenage Clark Kent.

A mild, upstanding student at Newport Harbor High, Birdsong is shy, soft-spoken, unassuming and humble.

That’s out of the water.

But the pool is the proverbial phone booth for Birdsong, who guarded his team’s goal from the opposition’s onslaught all season.

“Maybe that’s why he’s so good in the cage. He was so calm . . . but very aggressive,” Newport Harbor Coach Brian Kreutzkamp said of The Times’ Orange County boys’ water polo player of the year. “He’s not afraid to stop the balls. He’s quick and agile and he can move in that cage.”


Birdsong, a senior, was the only player on every coach’s list as the best goalie in Orange County.

“He was the cornerstone to Newport Harbor’s team,” Foothill Coach Jim Brumm said. “He’s a big reason why they were the No. 1 team for most of the season in the county.”

He had 204 saves, allowing six or more goals in only 14 of the 28 games he played. And his accomplishments went beyond the cage--Birdsong’s passes from goal were a key to the Sailors’ offense, and was one of the big reasons why Newport Harbor’s counterattack was so effective.

“My passes were OK, but if you don’t have a team that counters fast, then it doesn’t matter how good your passes are,” Birdsong said. “We had a great bunch of players who were fast. I was glad I was able to help out any way I could this year.”

Although Birdsong, 17, wishes his season had ended like a Superman comic, with the superhero saving the day, he has no regrets--especially about the team’s last game of the season, a loss to El Toro in the Southern Section Division I semifinals.

“It was disappointing to lose that game [in sudden death]. But boy, was it thrilling,” Birdsong said. “With the crowd, the screaming, we were all pumped up. And it was one of the most thrilling games I’ve played in.”


Birdsong, 17, began playing water polo in the eighth grade for a club team in Newport Beach. And since then, he’s always been in the goalie box.

Birdsong followed in the steps of another great Newport Harbor goalie, Jon Pharris, a Times’ first-team all-county selection in 1997 who now plays at Princeton, and who Birdsong credits for his growth in the position.

“He inspired me to play better and he taught me things,” said Birdsong, who this season found himself in Pharris’ role as mentor to Sean Johnson, a junior who will take over Birdsong’s spot next fall.

“He helped me a lot. And I wanted to help in the same way.”

Birdsong is unsure where he will go to college, but said he’s leaning toward Pepperdine.

“I really don’t know at this point,” he said. “I like Pepperdine and Claremont. And I applied to UCLA and Cal. I just have to wait and see what happens.”