James Disney's clownish juggling abilities charmed fourth-grade classmates years ago. Nearly a decade later, the McDonogh senior still is baffling to his peers.
Disney, 17, will graduate next month with 12 varsity letters, including four years of swimming, three years of lacrosse and two years of soccer.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder also has had one year each of water polo, cross country and track, balancing them with four years as student government representative, three as a concert trombonist and an A-plus average in advanced placement courses.
McDonogh has more than its share of multi-sport athletes, particularly on the lacrosse team, where Disney is a third-year starting midfielder with 14 goals and six assists.
Defender Joe Rosenbaum placed third in the state as a wrestler, while midfielder Owen Daly and attackman Bobby Benson keyed the league champion basketball team. Both Rosenbaum and Daly were members of the Eagles' championship football team, and Benson played on the Eagles' fourth-ranked soccer team. But it was Disney whose senior class voted him the school's best all-around athlete.
"Other guys do a lot, but how do you do what Disney does?" Rosenbaum asks. "How you explain a kid like him? He's good at everything."
In other sports: Disney ranks fourth all-time on McDonogh's 3.1 mile cross country course; helped the water polo team to the Eastern Championship; was among only two freshmen to make the Eagles' soccer team; and twice was captain on the two-time league runner-up swim team.
Disney's athleticism comes honestly. His mother, Denise Disney-Fulton, was a competitive swimmer, diver and gymnast. His father, Don Disney, played soccer, baseball and wrestled at Franklin High. Brother Todd, a McDonogh swimmer, is in the Marine Corps ROTC as a Virginia Tech sophomore.
The parents started their youngest son in swimming and soccer when he was 4, and basketball two years later. Don coached James in several sports.
"I was amazed at his focus in situations. You'd ask him to do something and he would go do exactly that," said Don Disney, the coordinator of athletics for Howard County public schools.
In middle school, Disney-Fulton said, James won a sixth-grade triathlon and was told by the upper school football coach he would make a good punter.
Disney, skipped lacrosse as a junior to run track, but an early-season foot injury relegated him to the discus rather than his preferred long distance events. He spent much of that season looking over his shoulder at last year's lacrosse team, which reached the playoffs for the first time in 24 years.
Back with lacrosse this year, coach Jake Reed called on Disney four times "to hold the ball in the last seconds," securing narrow victories over No. 5 Boys' Latin (twice), No. 4 Loyola and No. 3 St. Paul's.
"James doesn't get the credit he deserves," Benson said, "but he's a great competitor and vital to any team he's on."
But when Disney enrolls next year at Virginia Tech, his varsity sports will be over. Instead, he will focus on earning a veterinary or animal science degree.
"Lacrosse coaches from Maryland and Loyola have said they'd love to have James," Reed said. "But he chose college academics over sports, and you have to respect that."
Still, Disney's not quitting cold turkey.
"I hear Virginia Tech has extreme sports like roller hockey, mountain biking, white water rafting," Disney said. "I'll play club lacrosse or something. I'll find a sport for every season."
Pub Date: 5/03/98