Sherwood High School's Solomon Haile One of Nation's Best Cross Country Runners

By Carl Little
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, November 8, 2008

So much of what goes into Solomon Haile's story comes down to distance. The more than 7,000 miles he flew in October 2007 from his native Ethiopia to the Washington area. The 15 miles he commutes round-trip on public transportation each day to attend Sherwood High. The 3.1 miles he runs on cross-country courses, setting records with each passing race. Or that same distance when he runs it on a track, faster than just about any other high school athlete in the country.

No matter how far or fast he goes, though, he continues to be chased by something more difficult to measure: doubt. At meets, some fellow runners snicker that he's at least 20 years old. On the Web, there are stories and postings saying he earned cash while competing under a different name.

As he gets ready for the Maryland state cross-country championships today in Hereford, the doubts persist -- despite the fact that the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has cleared Haile twice.

"At first, I just try to ignore it, all this thing, but it's hard," the soft-spoken Haile said. "They destroyed my name."

Last month, an article on a popular running Web site reported that Haile accepted prize money from winning or placing in road races -- an act the MPSSAA forbids, and one that could jeopardize his chances for a major Division I college scholarship (Texas, Kansas, Purdue and North Carolina State are among those vying for him). The story prompted Montgomery County Public Schools officials to ask for a meeting with Haile, his sister Naomi and Sherwood Coach Dan Reeks.

After an hour-long sit-down at Sherwood, Duke Beattie, director of athletics for MCPS, and Sherwood Athletic Director Jim Meehan concluded that, while several checks had been mailed to Haile's home, he never cashed any of them.

"We've investigated his status -- the alleged status as a professional -- and we've reviewed the pertinent state regulations and definitions the state offers and Solomon passed with flying colors," Beattie said after inspecting about $600 worth of uncashed checks and unredeemed gift certificates that were piled on the table. "I've conducted the investigation on behalf of the school system and the state athletic association and he completely satisfies all state and Montgomery County regulations."

Said Ned Sparks, executive director of the MPSSAA: "I'm satisfied with the result. He's clear with the state."

Haile's age came under suspicion in January, shortly after enrolling at Sherwood and running a blistering 9 minutes 13.22 seconds in his first 3,200-meter indoor event for the Warriors. Footage of his post-race interview surfaced on the Internet and some visitors to running Web sites and Internet chat rooms identified him as Solomon Semunguse, a 20-year-old who had competed in road races in Europe, Asia and along the East Coast of the United States in 2007.

According to the MPSSAA, students who are 19 or older on Aug. 31 are ineligible to compete in athletics for the upcoming school year.

The Haile family declined a request by The Post to review his original birth certificate. Beattie said MCPS has a copy of Haile's birth certificate on record and confirmed his age before initially clearing him to compete at Sherwood.

"Our school officials have checked with his school back in Ethiopia and the dates were in sync with the birth certificate," Beattie said. "We're satisfied with the birth date."

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