Mike DiMauro: Matt Shampine: resident genius of Waterford High

May 7—WATERFORD — In the pantheon of geniuses, there's Albert Einstein, Bill Belichick and perhaps the person who invented remote control. But could even those estimable savants sing the ABC song backwards at 18 months old?

Did they ever need to have a special meeting after junior year because their high school has no more math left to teach them?

And now you know a few morsels about Matt Shampine, but a 15-year-old junior at Waterford High, who sustains the line "talent is a flame, but genius is a fire."

"Matthew was 18 months old and we were making our yearly pilgrimage to Massena (New York)," Kurt Shampine, Matt's dad, was saying Tuesday. "He was singing the ABC song. Well, it's a long drive, about six hours, so when he finished the song, he kept saying, 'again!' as kids do.

"After that, he said, 'now backwards!' And he was singing the ABC song backwards. My wife (Stephanie) and I are both engineers and we tried to do it in our heads, working back three letters at a time. It was brutally hard. That's when we knew we had something special."

And now Shampine, a three-sport athlete who was drawing math equations on the living room easel when he was 3, has reached May of his junior year. He is not yet 16 years old. He will graduate Lancerville next year still a month shy of his 17th birthday, a residual effect of enrolling in kindergarten at age four.

"Instead of taking another year of preschool, I just went up to kindergarten at 4. I did my whole kindergarten year at 4 and then first-grade year at 5 and so on up to now," Shampine said. "I still have to get my driving permit. And then I'll get my license about winter of my senior year. It's a struggle, but we'll get there."

Shampine took pre-calculus as a high school freshman and advanced placement calculus as a sophomore. Before he buttoned his baseball jersey for Tuesday's home game with Fitch, he took an advanced placement statistics exam. Shampine may be the only player on his team to laugh at the old math joke about how nobody talks to pi because she goes on and on forever.

"We don't have a specific plan yet for next year," Shampine said, alluding to how there's no math in the curriculum left to teach him, "but I might go to Connecticut College to take a course there."

Lest anyone reading this assume that challenges don't accompany such brilliance, remember that emotionally and socially, Shampine has always been the youngest guy in the room. Then there's this: Virtually all of his friends will be able to drive themselves to soccer practice next fall.

"It was a struggle early on. Physically, a lot of kids were bigger than me," Shampine said. "Socially, I'm always kind of a social guy trying to make friends wherever I go. But there were times when people made fun of me for being too young. I laugh it off. It's just playful stuff anyway."

Skipping a grade is all the rage now in high school athletics, too, just not the way Shampine has done it. An appreciable number of kids "reclassify" now, a process by which students most often choose to repeat a year in high school (or earlier) to gain an athletic or academic advantage.

"I'm basically a negative reclass. I like to use that term," Shampine said. "I got dunked on by a kid this year who was a freshman on another team and was actually older than me."

Shampine is among a number of promising pitchers in the ECC who can absolutely play somewhere in college. Except that Shampine, 15, is supposed to be a sophomore. Instead, he's a month away from being a de facto senior.

"In the back of my mind, I've thought that it would be nice to reclass, but what can you do at this point?" he said. "It's really more about academics in high school and then getting through college to get into a good position financially."

Shampine was asked what advice he might impart to his own children one day about potentially skipping a grade.

"I would tell them it's not about sports. It's really about academics," he said. "If they're smart enough, l think skipping is a good idea. But if they're borderline, I might consider leaving them in the normal grade because it really wouldn't be an advantage."

Kurt Shampine: "I wouldn't say there's any regret in having him younger athletically. Regret is a word of failure. His greatest asset as an athlete is his competitiveness and ability to play to a higher standard. It's possible there will be a postgraduate year. Or maybe go play in Division III."

Meanwhile, Shampine will continue with soccer, basketball and baseball at Waterford while others try to find him a math class for next year. A remarkable story, this. And yet you figure the best is yet to be if Matt Shampine heeds what Kurt and Stephanie tell him often: "Honor your gifts and be good to other people."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro