James Lonergan has a philosophy about life. “Work hard and don’t let the big guys beat you up!” Words to live by.

James is six years old. And this is what he wrote in a family book of quotes given to his mom recently as a gift. How do you explain a kindergartner this tenacious – one who already knows how to hang in there and not give up easily?

No one can say exactly where James learned this profound lesson.

For the big picture, we can look to his family, which includes a father and a mother – and five brothers and sisters, three from his father’s first marriage.

Much has been written in the past 20 years about the declining American family, and much of that may have been shortsighted.

The answer lies in how we define “the American family.” Look around our community. How many of our neighbors fit the classic 1950s family profile: mother and father (first marriage) and two birth children? While this still describes some families, in the year 2000 it’s estimated that one in three Americans is, or will become, a stepparent, stepchild or a step sibling.

Welcome to the age of the blended family – where the challenges abound and, with a lot of work, so do the rewards.

THE LONERGANS

Dave and Kim Lonergan, who make their home in Lake Highlands, believe their six children are learning valuable lessons about life from both playing sports and being part of a large blended family.

It all began, Kim says, when she and Dave met while working at the same law firm in 1989. At the time, Dave was rearing his four children as a single parent. Kim says she and Dave wanted to take their relationship slowly because there were lots of adjustments that had to be made, especially for the children. Kim had never been married, so it was a new experience for her as well.

But the challenge was met. In 1992, Kim and Dave were married. And soon, two more children were added to the family roster, making a total of six children.

Not only is Kim a full-time mom, she also is a part-time administrative law judge for the city of Dallas. Dave heads the labor and employment department at the law firm of Worsham, Forsythe & Wooldridge in Dallas.

“Like any other family, we have our mountains to climb and lessons to learn, with some easier than others,” Kim says.

“We do try to operate as a team. Some days, we’re batting a thousand, and other days, one or more of us are benched. It seems that never a day goes by where one of us isn’t in need of an assist in order to reach the goal of the day, the week or the year.

“Our oldest son, Sea, played basketball at Dartmouth, and one of his coaches nicknamed us ‘Team Lonergan.’ He never did say whether we had a winning record or not, but so far no one has requested a trade,” Kim jokes.

The Lonergans are a prime example of a blended family that has learned to appreciate each other’s differences and enjoy life together. Ranging in age from 24 to two years old, the siblings seem supportive of one another, and in an unusual twist, each is an athlete in his or her own right.

MEET THE TEAM

Sea, the eldest, is 24 years old and attends the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine. He attended Wallace Elementary, Lake Highlands Junior High, and graduated from Lake Highlands High School.

While growing up, he played a variety of sports. But eventually, he found basketball to be his game. Sea was honored as Most Valuable Player at LHHS and was District 5A MVP academically and athletically his senior year in high school.

After high school, Sea enrolled at Dartmouth College. Even though he was recruited as a freshman basketball player, Sea says he knew the Ivy League school didn’t look at him as one of the star players.

But the door was open, and this was his chance to see what he could do. He says he didn’t ever want to wonder if he could have made it at a Division I school. He says he worked hard, and it paid off, both academically and on the court.

Dave says his son gradutated from Dartmouth as one of its most decorated student athletes. He was Ivy League Rookie of the Year, two-time Academic All-American, All-Ivy for three years, three-time Dartmouth MVP, and was given the Dartmouth award for the Outstanding 1997 Graduate.

After graduation, Sea took some time off academically to play professional basketball in Portugal, Iceland and Finland before starting medical school in San Francisco.

Next is Brian, currently attending Northern Colorado University at Greeley, a Division II school. His story is a “Cinderella” one.

Before college, Brian also was a Wildcat athlete. He played football, baseball and basketball, while also dabbling in track through his sophomore year. But eventually, he focused on football. Dave remembers that the first two years, Brian followed the coaches around, looking for more playing time. Then his senior year, Brian played well and was named All-District and LHHS Outstanding Receiver.

His first few years as a UNC Bear were riddled with injuries and disappointments. He was sidelined game after game, wondering if his athletic career would ever be back on track again. Many times he says he felt like quitting, but he would pick himself up and move on.

Although Brian wasn’t contributing on the field as much as he wanted, he was forging new paths off the field. Brian found a balance in his life. He started a Young Life program for the area teens in Greeley and began a Bible study program with the football team.

This past season, things began to change. Soon after the season started, the tight end with whom he was sharing time was injured and out for the year. Now, it was Brian’s turn to see what he could do.

At the end of the season, he was named to the All-Conference Division II first team, having made 38 receptions for more than 500 yards and also was named to the second team of the Midwest region.

“I’ve waited a long time through a lot of injuries, but I’ve stuck with it and worked hard,” Brian says.

“Now the opportunity is here, and I’m just doing as much with it as I can. God has given me a great opportunity to go out there and do something good.”

The eldest daughter in the Lonergan clan is Devin. When she was in junior high school, she wanted more than anything to be a cheerleader. Unfortunately, she didn’t make the squad and was devastated, Kim says

But she tried again, this time for the Wildcat Wranglers high school squad. Again, Devin didn’t make it, and again, it was hard to keep trying.

“We kept telling her to keep a good attitude and not let it get her down. We told her to turn defeat into victory,” Kim says.

Devin did just that. Shortly into her junior year at LHHS, there was an opening on the Wranglers squad, and Devin was selected. In addition to being a Wrangler for two years, she was an elected officer and voted Female Wrangler of the Year.

Devin now attends Hendrix College in Arkansas, where she has been a cheerleader all four years. She has a 3.8 grade average and has been recognized for her research and work in the psychology department. Devin says she plans to attend graduate school next year.

Next is Tim, the 14-year-old.

“I have always thought Tim has had a unique position in the family. For years, he was the baby,” Kim says.

“After Dave and I married and had two more children, Tim became the middle child, chronologically. And yet, when Sea, Brian and Devin are away at college, Tim has the role of the oldest.”

Tim attends Lake Highland Freshman Center. Until this year, he was busy with three sports: football, soccer and basketball.

“His schedule was extremely hectic. He is in honors classes and had little time for homework, not to mention time to sleep,” Kim says. “This is the first year he has not played basketball for the school, but he had to make some choices.”

Tim plays soccer for Inter ’85 Blue, a Classic I select soccer team. This past summer, his team won the state championship and placed first in the Southeast regional tournament. They were ranked as one of the top four teams in the nation.

The youngest son is James, a master philosopher, according to his parents. Like his older brothers and sisters, James loves sports.

James saw his first Wildcat football game when he was two weeks old and traveled to Boston for his first Ivy League basketball game when he was just three months old. So it’s not particularly surprising that he began his sports career in preschool. Today he plays soccer, basketball and baseball. Dave coaches James’ soccer team, as he did for the older boys. The team is undefeated with a record of 24-0. As is the family tradition, James starts all of his games with their motto, “Do Good, Good Luck and Have Fun.”

Besides sports, he loves art and has been taking art classes for the past two years. He’s even sold his first piece to local Lake Highlands’ resident Leanne Frieberg because, according to James, “That’s what artists do.”

Two-year-old Micael is the designated team manager because she is the bossiest and most vocal, Dave says. She loves gymnastics, her favorite sport, but also loves to play yard hockey, wiffel ball, kick ball and punt-um with the family on Sunday afternoons.

Like James, she attended her first game when she was only a few weeks old, and at two months, traveled to Hanover, N.H., to watch Sea play basketball.

JUGGLING ACT

Life at the Lonergan house can be hectic. But Kim and Dave say they know the importance of spending time with their children. That’s why they try to support their children’s goals and dreams by attending their games – no matter what state they must travel to.

Dave says they find themselves making frequent trips to the airport. And, sometimes they, even manage to have time for a road trip.

While it may seem hard to believe, Kim and Dave actually do spend time together. Every Saturday night is designated “Date Night.” Kim says it gives them a chance to get away and relax. And it serves as an example to their children of how to nurture a loving relationship.

In addition to owing this to each other, Kim says, “we think we owe that to our children.”

Together, the family’s making it all work. But as Dave notes: “We have another family saying, ‘So far, so good.’

“With this many people going this many directions, you never know what is going to happen, and any aspect of control is only an illusion.

“The only time I thought we were all functioning at a perfect level, I came home, and one of the boys had broken up with his girlfriend, another had gotten a ticket, another had failed an exam, and another had cut his knee. A soccer game had been lost, and somebody else was mad at me about something.

“However, one thing it always is, is interesting.”