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Sports Crazed: When athletes get hooked

The passion for a specific sport develops early, and for varying reasons

Posted: August 18, 2014 10:12 p.m.
Updated: August 18, 2014 10:12 p.m.

It starts early — usually with a family members’ suggestion and guidance.

Young athletes will often try out other sports until they find the one that just clicks.

They’ll dedicate endless hours to in order to reach their full potential.

But first they have to find a passion for “the one.”

For Trinity Classical Academy’s Caden Kulp it was easy.

He spent his early years watching his brother, Patch, play football and knew that he would play too.

“He got into football in fifth grade and I started watching and saw how much he loved it,” said Caden. “I had been playing flag football and wanted to make the transition to tackle.”

In eighth grade he started working out with his brother, doing a weight-training program that had been passed down to them from their grandfather.

And last season as a freshman, he and Patch played together for the Knights’ varsity team and won the CIF-Southern Section 8-man Division II title.

For Caden, watching his brother play, and eventually playing with him, cemented his love of the game.

“Patch played a huge role in my love of football,” Caden said. “We would work out and run together. But the biggest thing he did was build my confidence up.”

It’s a similar story for Saugus High’s softball ace, Mariah Lopez.

As a little girl she dabbled in other interests, like soccer and cheer.

But in a family full of baseball and softball players, it seemed predestined which sport she would pick to focus her time and energy on.

“In soccer there was a lot going on and in cheer there was nothing going on, but softball just stuck out more than the other ones,” she said. “I definitely wasn’t the best but it was still fun. I think I hit like eight people the first time I ever tried pitching.”

From hitting eight batters at William S. Hart Pony League to striking out 170 with a 0.59 ERA as a sophomore at Saugus, the University of Oklahoma commit has come a long way.

But it all started just throwing in the backyard and learning the basics from her mother, Valerie.

“My mom played softball in high school and taught me all the fundamentals,” Lopez said. “My little sister, Makayla, used to catch for me all the time too. My whole family loves baseball and softball.”

For the Lopez family, any get-together is going to be centered around baseball.

“We’ll either go out and play Wiffle Ball, or we’ll play the MLB video game,” she said. “It gets competitive. There are tears shed sometimes to be honest.”

Kulp and Lopez fell in love with the sports they did in large part because they had family members who also played.

For Valencia High’s Chad LeDuff, it was a little different.

His parents wanted him to be active so he tried out basketball, some football but eventually settled on tennis.

The two-time All-Santa Clarita Valley Boys Tennis Singles Player of the Year started playing when he was 4 and began competing in United States Tennis Association tournaments at age 9.

The more he played, the more he loved it.

“For me it was the most natural sport,” he said. “Things are a lot more fun when you’re good at them. So I played at the public courts by my house. I clocked so many hours there.”

As LeDuff’s passion for tennis grew, his parents, Jason and Christy, naturally took a bigger interest as well.

So much so that they eventually took courses and now give tennis lessons with the Santa Clarita Parks and Recreation department.

“Through me competing in tournaments they learned a lot,” said Chad. “We used to play a lot and now I help them teach.”

Whether they’re introduced to their sport of choice by family or pick it up naturally like LeDuff, the common denominator is that they started early.

That passion they found as kids has driven them all to excel and maybe one day, pass that love on to the next generation.

“After college, if the opportunity is there, I’d love to coach,” said Lopez. “My family is so passionate about it, it was just seem natural to pass that passion on.”


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