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Caton Place : Utah Guard's Life Was Hectic Enough, but Now He Is the Proud Father of an Adopted Baby Girl

COLLEGE BASKETBALL / NCAA TOURNAMENT

March 11, 1997|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

SALT LAKE CITY — Ben Caton is a member of Utah's nationally ranked basketball team, but the real bounce in his life is away from the game he plays. That is supplied by his new daughter, recently adopted by Ben and his wife, Angie.

In a world of big-time college athletics that most find full enough--with practices, games, school and basic get-the-bills-paid survival--the Catons have made room for more. Her name is Kelsey.

Above all else, Ben and Angie Caton have family values. Had Bill and Hilary known about this during the campaign, they would have had it on the evening news.

This story is so warm and fuzzy it defies cynicism. It is real-life Ozzie and Harriet.

Caton is a senior starting guard for the Utes, the second-ranked team in the country and the second-seeded team in the NCAA West Regional. Utah (26-3) opens Friday in Tucson against Navy (20-8).

On a team built around 6-foot-10 All-American Keith Van Horn and 6-11 Michael Doleac, Caton averages about 10 points a game and is considered by many to be the best defensive guard in the Western Athletic Conference.

Caton's world is one of big-time athletic stress. He is part of a collegiate athletic elite that is normally consumed with games and winning.

When he is practicing or playing, Caton is no less consumed. But at 25, having gone on a Mormon mission that temporarily took him off the basketball court and into real life, he has found as much happiness in the world of diaper rash as in the world of jock itch.

While Ben is go-going down the court, Kelsey sits on Angie's lap in the stands, goo-gooing. And when it is all over, the Catons stop and count their blessings.

Ben and Angie met on Valentine's Day seven years ago and have been married for three. They learned that medical problems would, most likely, eliminate the possibility of their having children. So, a little more than a year ago, they decided to adopt.

"We decided, but it was more me," Angie said.

Ben agreed, both to the adoption plan, and to who was the real force behind it.

"It was a little tougher for me," he said. "I had a problem at first accepting the idea that I could take somebody's else's baby and love it."

The concept of adoption, of course, is not all that radical. Not unless you happen to be living on a basketball scholarship and your wife's wages from a local real estate development firm. The NCAA doesn't keep records on such things, but were it to do so, the category of Adoptions by Active Division I Players would not be a long list. Maybe a list of one, the Catons.

Even the Catons didn't expect to be on the list this soon. The complications involved in adopting a child these days, especially for a couple this young and this unsettled financially, are enormous. They filled out dozens of forms, went to interview after interview, went through legal checks and provided names for reference checks to the adoption agency. Then, like all people going through this process, they settled in for the long wait.

They also had some financial scrambling to do. When and if a baby were found and they were deemed to be the chosen parents, the fee would be $4,000, not including some related travel costs.

To get ready for the eventual day, expected to be well past Caton's college basketball days, Ben worked as a bellman, a parking valet, and as a basketball camp counselor for Utah's Coach Rick Majerus. He and Angie also managed a retirement home for a while.

But that wasn't enough for Angie. She got her own paper route.

"It was the Salt Lake Tribune and I had 120 papers," she said. "I'd get out there about 5 in the morning and be done in an hour or so. It was OK. Not a big deal, although you don't get many tips anymore and I was only making about $200 a month.

"Eventually, one of those really cold mornings came around and Ben made me stop."

Majerus did all he could within NCAA rules to help the Caton's along the way, such as suggesting doctors and helping find adoption agencies. Still, watching them go through the arduous process was frustrating for him.

"More than once, I just wanted to write them a check for $4,000, or slip the cash into his pocket," he said. "You've never seen two people more determined to get this done."

The Caton fund-raising effort also hit a slight bump when Ben was given the opportunity to be a counselor at Michael Jordan's basketball camp in Elmhurst, Ill.

"He was already working a couple of jobs, and he knew pretty well that what he got paid at Jordan's camp would barely cover his expenses," Majerus said. "But it was also the chance of a lifetime."

After some discussion, Angie ruled that Ben would go, and the adoption fund-raising would go on hold for a couple of weeks. Ben flew off to Chicago, then watched His Airness fly around the courts during the camp.

"I was in awe," Ben said. "I never had to guard him because I was always on his team. Mostly, I just stood and watched."

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