LITTLE ROCK — A student at "Dear N-L-R-H-S," I paid to watch Little Rock Central play football against a highly touted out-of-state opponent. The Tigers won, part of a 33-game winning streak. Whether they beat Istrouma, La., or Paducah, Ky., is foggy, but to see the best against the best was reason enough to cross the Arkansas River.
These days, taking in the cream of the crop in football and basketball is rarely an option at the High School All-Star game.
Scanning the box score from the recent boys’ game in Conway, Bobby Portis’ name was missing. That same day, Tyler Scaife was absent from the box for the girls’ game.
The next day, stats from the football game did not include running back Altee Tenpenny.
Headed for Arkansas, Rutgers and Alabama, Portis, Scaife and Tenpenny are the most high-profile senior athletes in the state. Considering the expectations for Portis and fellow freshman Moses Kingsley, Razorback fans might have paid to get a sneak peek at the 6-foot-9 athlete from Little Rock Hall. Others without a personal attachment might have bought a ticket to get a look at the two who got away, particularly Tenpenny, who was courted by Alabama while a high school junior.
Before delving into why they did not participate in the games at Conway, it is understood that the all-star games are not solely about the few and far between future stars. For the players selected, family and friends, the games might be the high point of an athletic career. The moment is to be celebrated by all involved.
Portis, Scaife and Tenpenny are not to blame for being absent. Neither are the athletic departments at their college of choice.
The student-athletes are only taking advantage of NCAA bylaw 22.214.171.124.3, which took effect in 2005. It allows institutions to provide summer school aid to student-athletes before their initial enrollment, which means the fall semester of their freshman year. As a result, athletes head for college shortly after graduating from high school.
Once on campus, they get a jump on academic requirements, banking six hours or more during the summer. Keep in mind that they must remain enrolled in 12 hours each semester to be eligible and must complete 40 percent of their degree requirements after four semesters, so courses passed during the summer hedge against a bad grade during the fall or spring.
The early enrollment is also a way for those who want to graduate early to get ahead of the academic curve.
In addition, they have an opportunity to work out. Voluntarily, of course.
Reacting to the early enrollment of athletes, the Arkansas Activities Association changed its rules so an all-star can participate in the game if he or she makes half of the practices. This year, University of Central Arkansas signees Gilberto Garcia of Morrilton and Stockton Mallett of Yellville-Summit took advantage. Garcia had a speech class in the morning and Mallett had college algebra in the afternoon, and both practiced around their classes.
By the way, Portis couldn’t have participated in the state All-Star game because he had already done the limit of two, including the McDonald’s All-American game.
One way to increase participation in the Arkansas game is to schedule the game during the school year. Last Jan. 5, football all-stars from Palm Beach County, Fla., squared off against their counterparts from two counties in Georgia. There were other all-star games in Florida during the month.
Such a move is being discussed by the AAA. One of the questions is whether coaches and athletes would be willing to give up their Christmas break to prepare for the games. Another is what to do about athletes who could be involved in a second sport going on at the time.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.