Riding wave of success

When Sam McLaughlin isn't scoring goals for Poly's soccer team, he's likely acing a class, modeling in a fashion show or surfing.


Sam McLaughlin is the top scorer on Poly's boys soccer team, but he's also a whole lot more. And the senior balances his responsibilities, hobbies and social life much like he juggles a ball with his feet - effortlessly.

A 4.0 student and a member of the National Honor Society, McLaughlin excels in all honors and college preparatory courses.

He's musically inclined, as well. McLaughlin was taught to play the piano at an early age and has affinities for classical music and jazz. His independent studies class documentary, co-produced with a classmate, studied how African-Americans used jazz to communicate during slavery and earned him a berth in last spring's National History Day finals.

McLaughlin, 17, also has aspirations of becoming a model. And when the bell sounded ending yet another school day recently, he was found scurrying down the hall to a rehearsal for the senior class fashion and talent show.

An avid surfer and snowboarder who often wears a seashell necklace and flip-flops, McLaughlin "has the `It' factor with a capital `I' and a capital `T,' " Poly principal Dr. Barney Wilson told Baltimore Magazine, which featured McLaughlin as a Kid To Watch in last month's edition in a story titled The It Boy. "Every girl would love to go to the prom with him. He will find success in whatever he wants to pursue in life."

McLaughlin's immediate goal, as a team captain and fourth-year starting center midfielder, is to lead the Engineers to their fourth straight Baltimore City title.

McLaughlin missed all but four games a year ago after breaking his right ankle against Patterson. But in 12 games for this year's Engineers (8-4 overall, 8-1 league) McLaughlin leads the team with 16 goals and 11 assists.

"We lost some players to graduation, and Sam's been a catalyst in helping us to fill the gaps, providing leadership and taking the team to another level," said second-year coach Nick Greer.

"Off the field, Sam is one of the better human beings that I know. He naturally treats people with respect, and that comes from deep inside of him," Greer said. "I believe Sam can play soccer at a major university, but soccer's not going to be his life. I see Sam going on to much greater, humanistic things, like civil work, helping the impoverished, or, otherwise, getting through to people."

If McLaughlin chooses that direction, he will be following in the footsteps of his parents, who met as social workers at the city's social services department in the late 1970s.

McLaughlin's mother, Carine, is Chinese. The daughter of a diplomat, she was born in Taiwan and raised there until she was 13. McLaughlin's American-born father, James, is the son of Irish parents who immigrated from Glasgow, Scotland.

McLaughlin and his sister, Melinda, 21, a Western graduate, grew up "hearing stories about how we, as social workers, tried to help people," Carine McLaughlin said. "We thought that it was important for them to learn about that. We think that it's important to treat people well and to represent your family well."

McLaughlin has starred in lacrosse and swimming at Poly. But above all, he loves soccer - the sport he learned from his father not long after he began walking.

"I'd paint faces on boxes, teach them how to boot direct kicks with one foot, then make them do it with the other foot," said James McLaughlin, a former soccer player and cross country runner in college.

"One of the reasons I like soccer so much is that it brings together people from so many backgrounds. It's the No. 1 sport, worldwide. It's like the universal language," Sam McLaughlin said. "You don't need to have a basketball hoop. You don't need cleats or shoulder pads. You can just grab a ball and play."

Friends appreciate McLaughlin's easygoing personality, so much so that they excuse his eccentric fashion sense, according to fellow midfielder Evan Jackson.

"Sam wears some pretty strange stuff - pants with 10 different colors, white sunglasses, bright green polo shirts, pink cap - but no one ever seems to dog him out about it," said Jackson, a junior. "Today, he came to school with a sky-blue polo shirt, plaid shorts and these sandals that looked like they were 500 years old."

Like his mother, Sam McLaughlin has hazel eyes and dark hair, with curls that rival those of his father. McLaughlin ties his locks into a bun that bounces around as he runs the soccer field.

"Sam is perfect in school with the best grades; he's perfect on the soccer field; perfect on the lacrosse field; perfect in the swimming pool ... ," said DeVonnie Franklin, a sophomore who swims and manages Poly's boys soccer and lacrosse teams. "I can see him being a model, because he's the only guy who can wear the outfits he wears and it looks right."

At a recent soccer practice, McLaughlin was greeted by 9-year-old Marquis Phillips, the nephew of a member of Poly's football coaching staff. Phillips has been an admirer of McLaughlin's, shadowing him throughout most practices, even participating alongside of him in team calisthenics and intrasquad scrimmages.

"When I came around to watch them practice one day, [McLaughlin] was the first one to say something to me. Me and him became friends," Phillips said. "I asked him to show me some of his tricks, and he showed me some - the rainbow kick, the helicopter. I want to be able to trick people, go around them for a goal. I want to be just like him."


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