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Impossible Situation

Harvard-Westlake's Holmes, a prime college football recruit, faces tough fight for fifth year of high school athletic eligibility.


STUDIO CITY — Alex Holmes was en route to the end zone with a defender draped on his shoulder pads when a loud groan came from the top row of bleachers.

"Please tell me he's not going to be back for his senior year," said Jon Mack, football coach at St. Bonaventure High. "He's done enough damage already."

Mack was one of several coaches scouting the Sept. 12 game at Harvard-Westlake. They saw the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Holmes catch five passes for 111 yards and a touchdown, make several crushing tackles and boot a kickoff five yards beyond the end zone in helping the Wolverines to a 28-13 nonleague victory over Channel Islands.

Holmes is a prime college recruit as a tight end and linebacker. But it appears Mack and other Wolverine opponents will get their wish: Although he is listed as a junior, Holmes, 17, is unlikely to be eligible for high school competition after this school year.

That's because he is in his fourth year of high school and competing in interscholastic sports. Southern Section rules dictate that a student cannot participate in athletics for more than eight semesters, with exceptions only for serious illnesses or "exceptional hardship". This is the fourth season of varsity football for Holmes, who repeated the ninth grade.

Holmes' parents, Mike and Katrina, said they plan to file a hardship request with the section next week. But section officials said the request will likely be denied. That leaves Holmes and potential recruiters in limbo.

Because he is a junior, Holmes cannot be contacted by recruiters. The only contact with colleges has come through letters from more than 40 schools, including UCLA, USC, Washington, Stanford and Nebraska, Mike Holmes said.

Harvard-Westlake Principal Harry Salamandra said he is unsure whether Holmes can meet the school's requirements for graduation this school year, meaning the standout athlete faces the prospect of being sidelined during his senior year.

"It's a real dilemma for us," said Katrina Holmes, who declined a request to have Alex interviewed. "But if we were manipulative parents and we were just trying to get our kid the fifth year for football, he wouldn't be at such a fine academic institution."

The Holmes family will try to convince Southern Section officials that because Alex missed 13 weeks of school in seventh grade because he was ill, he is not ready to attend college.

"He is age-appropriate right now," Katrina Holmes said. "I want him prepared for college, not to get into school just because he's a football player. He's immature."

Holmes attended La Jolla High from 1995-1997. Katrina Holmes said after Alex played varsity football as a freshman, she requested he repeat ninth grade because she was concerned about his academic performance.

Katrina Holmes said the request was granted. La Jolla High Principal Dana Shelburne said it was denied. A copy of Alex Holmes' 1997 report card, provided by Katrina Holmes, lists him as a freshman, although it was his second year of high school.

Alex transferred to Harvard-Westlake for the 1997-98 school year, enrolling as a sophomore. He caught 38 passes for 696 yards and five touchdowns last season.

Salamandra said Harvard-Westlake will support Holmes' hardship request.

"Mrs. Holmes indicated she feels there is evidence the [section] needs to look at," Salamandra said.

But neither Southern Section assistant commissioner Bill Clark nor Katrina Holmes holds out much hope that Alex will suit up for the Wolverines next season.

Clark, who has held his position for 18 years, said he "can count on one hand" the number of students who have received a fifth year of athletic eligibility in that time.

"And I have never seen [the section] grant an additional year of eligibility when the kid has already played four years of sports," Clark said.

Said Katrina Holmes: "I have never been very optimistic that he would get the fifth year, but I was hopeful given the circumstances. But it bothers me that the [Southern Section] seems predisposed to a denial."

Clark said if section Commissioner Dean Crowley denies the hardship request, Holmes could appeal to the section's executive committee. If the committee does not overturn the denial, the family could have its case reviewed by a state athletics committee.

"And if they don't get a favorable review and can't appeal at the state level, they could go to court," Clark said.

Mike Holmes, a former lineman at Michigan who hopes to see his son attend his alma mater, said he fears a year layoff from football will hurt Alex's development.

"I think it would be a disadvantage for him, and that to be in high school and not to be able to play sports would be too hard," Mike Holmes said. "He's almost in an impossible situation."

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