All good sports in this family

Lessons: The Augustin family has learned nine times how to interest kids in sports.

February 10, 2002|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Elizabeth Augustin, at 31, ran her first marathon last fall in Baltimore. The special-education team leader at River Hill High School finished, as did her younger sister Mary, 27. A brother, Matthew, 23, helped them train and the next week he ran in Washington's Marine Corps Marathon.

Mary and Liz and another brother, Donald, 29, are planning to run another marathon together - a fund-raising race in Alaska later this year that will be Don's first. And Matt will run his first Boston Marathon on April 15.

Nice, you might say - grown-up brothers and sisters sharing an interest. Actually, Liz, Mary, Matt and Don are part of a much larger picture - they're among nine grown sons and daughters raised in Columbia by Kenneth and Ann Augustin, who live in Harper's Choice village, awaiting their first grandchild.

This lifetime sports thing simply continues a lifestyle that, in addition to consisting of nine children, helps distinguish the Augustin family and might provide some guidance for younger, newer parents - and children - today.

In short, the elder Augustins - their seven sons and two daughters spread from Columbia to Pakistan while pursuing careers as diverse as Marine helicopter pilot, special education, medicine, golf-course management, mortgage banking and computer systems - can't remember sports not being part of their daily lives.

Helpful hint No. 1 for less experienced parents: The Augustin kids agree, theirs was never one of those high pressure, become-a-champion, win-a-scholarship households. In fact, Mom and Dad said they deliberately stayed away from anything that smacked of pressure to excel in sports.

"I kind of felt like I had to wrestle, because of my older brothers," said Matt, the youngest, now in his first year as a physical education teacher in Montgomery County. "But by my junior year in high school, I liked it. We never had any pressure at home. Everyone was very encouraging."

Added Liz, a middle child: "We put more pressure on ourselves than our parents ever did."

"Living in Columbia, getting them involved in sports was easy," said Ken Augustin, a high school wrestler and then college runner in St. Louis who still appears in running shape. "We thought it was good for them, good discipline, and the idea was to expose them to things."

Added Ann Augustin, an occupational therapist who grew up in North Dakota and has rancher relatives there, sports "became the centerpiece ... of our family, but it sort of evolved."

Among the expectations she and her husband strove for, she said, was "that they should enjoy it." Helpful Hint No. 2.

"We did tell them that if you're going to do something, if we're going to spend time and money on it, then you have to do it," said Ken Augustin. Hint No. 3. "We did require that they finish whatever they started."

Part of the payoff for that guidance, said Elizabeth, was that "it taught me commitment, I guess, which most recently helped me do the marathon. I was running on my own, but building up to that distance takes a lot of time."

The array of sports in Augustin lives is wide. Most of the young Augustins tried several instead of specializing early, which could be Hint No. 4.

Soccer: Everyone played a few years, all at the recreational level for Soccer Association of Columbia neighborhood teams. "It was low pressure," said Ken Augustin. "We never got into the travel scene."

Swimming: All nine Augustin progeny swam competitively, in Columbia's summertime neighborhood swim league. The pool was a short walk down the street. Some competed in winter, too, more serious stuff. Their parents still have the ribbons, medals and trophies from swimming and other endeavors.

"I used to get up to get them to those 6 a.m. practices," said Ken, who works for a medical supply firm in Columbia. "I was glad when that ended."

Wrestling: As several sons began in the sport, Ken said he didn't always hang around for practices. (Hint No. 5.) But he attended most matches, as did other family members, because supporting one another's activities was considered important, Hint No. 6. Three Augustin sons became Howard County weight-class champions for Centennial High School.

"It was competitive, growing up," recalled Don, a physician's assistant in Salisbury. "But there was always support. I can remember Mom being the loudest one in the crowd. ... Looking back, I can't imagine how they made all those events. We took it for granted, I guess, but they did it, and so did all the kids - and it was great."

Running: Most of the young Augustins tried that in high school. Dad and Mom both recalled packing the family into a car for weekly trips to the Towson YMCA, which sponsored a "fun run." "It was when 2 miles was a long way," he said, but doing things together was deemed important( Hint No. 7).

Lacrosse, skiing (now snowboarding for Don), kayaking, rugby, golf - Augustins in various combinations have dabbled with them all, either as youngsters, in one of the 11 colleges (including West Point and the Naval Academy) that Augustin offspring have attended, or as grownups.

Matt, the gym teacher, decided on his field because "athletics are important, and there's a need for it today. There aren't kids playing in the streets anymore, but it's important, especially for younger kids, because life has become so sedentary."

Only one sport drew negative vibes at home, although a couple of boys tried it, anyway. That was baseball.

"I didn't want to encourage that," said Ken Augustin, laughing. "Very tedious."

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