UPON FIRST GLANCE, there's a strong temptation to think Oumar Diawara is cool only because he has participated in five sports this school year for Boys' Latin Charter.
And, indeed, that's an amazing accomplishment.
But Diawara, a 6-foot, 150-pound senior, also deserves praise for his classroom feats (cumulative 3.2 GPA through 4 years), especially with one very important variable in mind.
As recently as 7 years ago, English was mostly a rumor to Diawara. Though he was born in Philly, at age 5 he'd been sent to Bamako, Mali, in Africa, to live with his grandfather/namesake, Oumar Diakara.
"My parents [mother Djita, father Mamadou] thought it would be good for me to be raised in family's homeland," Diawara said Wednesday, during a break from a gloomy-day baseball practice at Shepherd Rec Center, 57th and Haverford. "To learn African culture and see what my parents had gone through.
"Over there, we used French in school and I also spoke Mandingo [local dialect]. I pretty much forgot all the English words and when I moved back here - once my grandfather passed, there wasn't a reason to stay there - I had to take ESOL classes [English for speakers of other languages] in middle school."
With a smile, he added, "Just that part was difficult. The school thing itself was so much different. Over there you go to school from 8 to 12 and then again from 3 to 5. In between is for lunch, or whatever. You can go home if you want to, as long as you're back by 3. Then I came back here and I'd ask my mom, [insert whiny voice] 'Why do we have to stay in school for so long?!' "
In time, the question, which he asked of himself, became: Why should I limit myself sportswise?
"In Africa, I only knew of soccer," Diawara said. "Then, from watching 'SportsCenter' on TV, I learned of other things and told myself, 'I'll try that . . . I'll try that.' Once I did, I liked 'em. My father is big on academics. He always told me, 'You have to be a student first. You keep your grades up, I'll let you play anything.' "
In soccer, as a forward-midfielder, Diawara was (at least) one of BL's top two players, according to baseball boss Joe Dunn, who's also the athletic director. He also served the football squad as the kicker-punter and had the pleasure of hammering a field goal as the Warriors stunned 9-0 West Philadelphia in a Public AAA semifinal.
Come winter, he damn near took a vacation, limiting his activities to indoor track.
He's spending the spring as the starting leftfielder - he bats and throws lefthanded, though he kicks/punts rightfooted ("I can write with either hand") - and the track team's top dog, thanks to his exploits in the 800, 1600 and 4x400 relay.
Conflicts? Impossible not to have some.
"In baseball . . . let's see, yes, I've missed two games because of track," he said. "And in football, sometimes I couldn't be there because soccer came first. Most of the time the choice has been up to me."
(BL had a short schedule Wednesday. From the baseball workout, Diawara was heading to 63rd and Cobbs Creek Parkway for track practice. The running events of the Pub championships, starting at 1 o'clock, are Thursday at Northeast High. Friday brings a Pub AAA baseball quarterfinal vs. Philadelphia Electrical & Technology Charter.)
When asked why he puts such demands on his time and body, Diaware shrugged and said, simply, "I've always wanted to stay busy after school. It's how I stay engaged."
The next stop for Diawara, who lives on the 2500 block of Island Avenue, not far from the airport, will be Albright College, in Reading. He plans to major in sports management.
As for participation . . .
"I'm going to run track and play soccer," he said. "I've talked to both coaches up there."
And, who knows, those guys someday might plop themselves in a chair in front of Oumar, so he can make a little extra cash.
"I cut hair, too," he said. "I've been doing it for about 5 years. Just a little side thing. I limit that to the weekends."
To Oumar Diawara, rest is a four-letter word.