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Busier life beckons at Air Force Academy

HARTLAND -- Jonathan Beabout has packed a lot into his 18 years, and he's going to be even busier this summer.

He will miss his June 27 graduation at Royalton-Hartland Senior High School, even though he's currently ranked second in the senior class with a 99.3 average. That's because three days before that, he will be flying to Colorado Springs, Colo., to begin basic training before beginning classes at the Air Force Academy in mid-August.

Jonathan -- a champion swimmer and an accomplished singer and an actor in school and church plays -- was appointed to the academy by former Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds.

Reynolds' successor in Congress, Rep. Chris Lee, R-Clarence, confirmed the choice, and Jonathan then was able to get over the high hurdle of meeting the academy's entrance requirements.

Jonathan lives with his parents, Walter, retired pastor of Ransomville Free Methodist Church, and Susan, a materials engineer at Delphi, and his 15-year-old twin brothers, Josh and Jason.

We recently paid a visit to find out how his swimming prowess helped open the door to a free college education and a military career:

>Didn't I see your name as a Niagara-Orleans League swimming champion?

Yes, I was one of only two double winners at the N-O League meet. I won the 200 (freestyle) and rewrote the school record and won in the 500 (freestyle). I won my first time in my first year on varsity in the eighth grade, and I've won multiple times since then. I have nine league patches for winning.

>How did you get interested in the Air Force Academy?

I received a letter last year for swimming, originally. It looked pretty cool. It offers opportunities that I wasn't familiar with. I originally applied because it would be a great way to swim Division I without having to pay to go to a Division I school. But their swimmers are really fast, and I don't think I'll make the team, but I'm going to try.

>Service academies are a free ride regardless of sports, right?

Yes, but you still have to pay for your uniforms and stuff, but it's a free college ride, a $400,000 scholarship.

>How much are the uniforms?

I'm not sure.

You have to be in the service for some years after you graduate, right?

Seven years, five active and two on reserve. If I were to go to pilot training, then I'd have to serve 10 years.

>Are you interested in pilot training?

Maybe, but my doors are open right now. I'm not exactly sure what I want to do. Engineer would be the second [option]. . . . It's an engineering school, a science-based school.

Have you taken courses at Roy-Hart for a pre-engineering track?

I'm in college calculus and college chemistry, so I'm well-prepared for the engineering field. My transcript from [Niagara University] for calc was an A-plus. I'm not far enough in chem to know my grade.

>Do you come from a military family?

My dad was an Air Force staff sergeant in the early 1950s. My grandpa was in the service [the Army Air Corps].

>Is there an entrance exam?

There's not an entrance exam. It's based on what normal colleges look at, SATs, ACTs, essays, but it's a much steeper grading curve. There's more competition than what a normal college would be. I think [the freshman class] is about 1,200, and about 13,000 apply.

>Was there any question that you would make that grade?

The only thing that held me back was in November. When I was going for my physicals for the Air Force, they told me I had asthma. I had never thought that I would, because I swim and I sing and I do all these things that require breath control. Apparently they thought I had asthma, so I had to have some tests done at a hospital, but they cleared up by the end of December. I do not have asthma. That would disqualify me, if I had asthma.

>You sing?

I've been in the school chorus since kindergarten. All the choruses I could be in, I've been in. I've been in area all-state, a participant in their choir since seventh grade. It's a selective choir. You try out with a solo, and they grade you, and if your grade's good enough, you get in. . . . And I sing at my church, Ridgewood Bible Church. I'm in the choir, and I also do solos. Normally I do contemporary Christian.

>You're also a counselor at JIM Club. What's that?

It's a Christian leadership camp for boys. It's over the summer [in Bemus Point]. Boys spend two weeks there learning to express themselves vividly for Christ. . . . It stands for "Jesus Is Mine."

>Have you been to Colorado before?

Last June, I went out for the Air Force Academy's summer seminar. It's like a mini-Academy experience. You do the whole application process, only a little less intense, for [high school] juniors. You go for a week and experience cadet life.

>What aspects of cadet life made the biggest impression on you?

Just that a lot of people have the right to tell you what to do.

>You don't like that?

I actually enjoyed it. There's a lot of regularity and a lot of structure to it. I like to have that in my life.

>What do your friends think of you going to the Air Force Academy?

Most of them are extremely happy for me. Some of them, the Democrats in the crowd, they're just a little edgy about it because I'm going into the military. You know how that goes.

>You're a Republican?

I am a Republican.

>You're in the Niagara County Legislature intern program. Why was that appealing to you?

I wanted to know what it would be like to be a politician. It's in my top three -- pilot, engineer, politician.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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