Sam Champion: Disco Dancer, Weathercaster

Sept. 6, 2006 — -- For years, Sam Champion has been a weathercaster extraordinaire. He began his career at WJKS in Jacksonville, Fla., and spent the past 18 years charming viewers at WABC in New York.

But his family, friends and teachers say his comfort and charm became evident long before he stepped in front of a camera.

"He was born with a lot of charisma, a lot of charm. That's something that you have from within," said friend and high school sweetheart Ana Coleman.

Champion seemed to like being the center of attention.

"Sam was always somebody who was, as my mother put it, putting on a show," his sister Teresa said.

Constantly on the Move

Champion's personality came in handy throughout his childhood. His dad, a Marine, kept the family moving every few years, and young Champion often had to make new friends.

The family lived in Scotland, where Champion completed first grade, and then moved to Kentucky, North Carolina, Rhode Island and, finally, to Fairfax, Va. Champion and his sister embraced their ever-changing surroundings.

"We both had the same approach to moving. It was, 'Wow, what new adventure are we gonna have in this new place? What new people? What are we gonna do next,'" his sister said.

Constantly moving around made Champion flexible -- and resilient.

"All the moving around deeply influenced his character, because I think it made him incredibly adaptable," Coleman said.

Getting Involved

Champion set down roots for the first time in high school.

"That was the only time that I had a feeling of community or a neighborhood," he said.

To everyone at school, he was the guy who got involved, who sang in the school choir and helped organize safety assemblies.

"Sam was sort of a natural politician. He was president of his class," said former teacher Fred Wygal.

Friends remember Champion as someone who worked hard but had fun too.

"Sam was very popular in high school. We were disgustingly good kids, actually," said classmate Kelly Lloyd. "We were in student government together. We would work on the floats for homecoming."

Champion developed his reputation for hard work early. Lloyd recalled that Champion's grades went through the roof.

"If he didn't get a 4.0, he was probably pretty close," Lloyd said. "What I remember is Sam being pretty focused."

Champion's family background certainly influenced his drive to achieve.

"When your dad is a Marine, you do have to perform," Champion said. "But reading, social studies -- the things that came naturally and easy to me are the things that I loved to do."

Dance Fever

But even more important to Champion than grades was … dancing.

"He accomplished what very few students managed to accomplish before him. This young man was selected the best boogier," Wygal said.

"He was an excellent dancer," Coleman said. "He would put on his most New York-style clothes."

Famous clubs and disco music became his inspiration.

"We saw those images of Studio 54 and all that and that was what was really cool in that day," Champion said.

"Anything sort of 'Saturday Night Fever' kind of dancing we would do," Lloyd said. "Our favorite music was anything to do with Donna Summer. We would hustle to 'Bad Girls.' And of course, hustle to 'The Hustle.' "

And Champion's friends and family knew him for his favorite signature spoof: Steve Martin's "Wild and Crazy Guy" from "Saturday Night Live."

"He loved 'Saturday Night Live,' " Coleman said. "He would quote Steve Martin all the time."

"It wasn't just me who was walking around doing it," Champion said. "But I was probably doing it more than others."

Caring Individual

But even when he's just joking around, everyone who loves Champion knows his compassion and humanity always shine through.

"Cards. I have lots and lots of cards," Coleman said. "He was a card buyer and a card writer."

And Champion continues to make his loved ones proud.

"I'm very proud of who he was. And I'm very proud of who he is," his sister said