SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Three children are growing up in Summerfield, La., just like Karl Malone did _ hunting squirrels, hauling hay, busting wood and baiting hooks.

And all three, like Malone, are without a father.

The children, 17-year-old twins Daryl and Cheryl Ford, and 14-year-old Demetrius Bell, all believe the Utah Jazz star is their father, although Malone has refused to publicly claim the three. Paternity suits against Malone were settled out of court.

Last month, Malone met with the Ford twins, born the summer after Malone graduated from high school. But the meeting deepened the pain for Bell, who was not invited to the reunion.

His mother, Gloria Bell, was 13 when she gave birth to the child during Malone's sophomore season at Louisiana Tech. She said she doesn't receive any support from Malone.

``Demetrius is ashamed that his dad doesn't claim him,'' said Bell in story Sunday in The Salt Lake Tribune. ``But I've told him it is not his fault.''

Malone declined to be interviewed, but his attorney, Randall Call, said Malone never felt the children were his because the suits were settled before paternity was proven.

Meantime, Demetrius, or Meechie as he is called, shuns connections with Malone, although they both are fond of big trucks. Demetrius recently returned from a three-state road trip with Bell's truck-driver boyfriend, the closest thing he has to a father figure next to his uncle.

The eighth-grader enjoys studying math and likes to hunt and fish. When it comes to athletics, the 5-foot-11 teen-ager said he prefers softball to basketball. His mother said he downplays his interest in basketball to avoid being associated with Malone.

``He shies away from anything that has to do with Karl,'' she said. ``It hurts his feelings when he goes somewhere and everybody's talking about Karl Malone.''

According to court documents, Demetrius is the result of a two-month relationship with Malone in 1983. Her family could have asked the district attorney to file criminal charges because under Louisiana law a person cannot consent to sex until the age of 17.

The crime carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, but Bell said her parents didn't pursue charges since Malone was a neighborhood kid.

Malone visited Summerfield last month to visit the Ford twins. Both play high school basketball. Cheryl recently traveled to Moscow as part of the Junior Olympic Team. She wears No. 32 on her jersey _ the same as Malone _ but wears it because it's the number her mother wore.

Still, ``The Mailman's'' presence is inescapable in Summerfield.

A sign on the edge of town welcomes visitors to ``Karl Malone Country.'' At Summerfield High, his photo stares from the trophy case that the three children pass each day.

The uniforms Cheryl and Daryl and their teammates wear were donated by Malone in 1992, and every summer he returns to Summerfield where his mother runs a general store.

``We saw him in the store every summer and all he would do is stare,'' Cheryl said. ``I would go to the store, get my candy and go home.''

Some residents, who believe Malone fathered the children, see the behavior as contradictory for a man who supposedly never forgot his roots and who also grew up without a father.

Malone's father killed himself when Malone was 3.

``Everybody around here is proud of Karl, of what he has done,'' said a clerk at Butch Bays' store, where Gloria Bell works as head cook. ``But then you see these kids day in and day out. I can't imagine the pain they have had to grow up with.''

It also seems abnormal for Malone, the family man, who has four children and is considering adopting more and has a history of youth charity work.

He is involved in the Special Olympics; he has established the Karl Malone Foundation to help abused, neglected and abandoned children; and he developed a friendship with Danny Ewing, a 13-year-old boy with leukemia who died in 1996.

Utah Jazz president Frank Layden warns against passing judgment.

``It seems to be an unfortunate incident he's trying to correct,'' Layden said. ``Personally, I'm not going to love Karl Malone any less. ... He's done many nice things for so many people. I'd go so far as to say he is one of the most generous, giving people I know.''

How much Malone has given the three children is unknown. Settlements from two paternity suits are confidential. Call said only that Malone paid one lump sum for the settlement before the court established paternity.

Demetrius' grandparents, Tommie and Ola Mae Bell, filed the first suit, requesting $200 a week to help their daughter, then 15, raise her 2-year-old son. Blood tests showed a 99.3 percent probability that Demetrius was Malone's son.

Malone failed to respond to the lawsuit, prompting Louisiana District Judge Leon Whitten to order Malone to pay $125-a-week in child support. Malone appealed, but settled the case before there was a ruling.

Bonita Ford's suit was filed in 1989 when her twins were 8. After three years of litigation a judge found Malone in contempt of court after he refused to disclose his assets and submit to DNA blood tests. Soon after, lawyers negotiated an out-of-court settlement.