At age 18, John Kerr Jr., a Falls Church High School senior, has earned honors most young soccer players only dream about.
The New York Cosmos recently chose Kerr, a high school All-American, as their top draft pick, making him the youngest player drafted this year by a North America Soccer League team. And just last week, Kerr accepted a full soccer scholarship from Duke University, the No. 2 team in the nation, after considering offers from UCLA, Virginia, St. Louis, North Carolina and others.
Although Kerr has single-footedly overcome many opponents on the field, two important personal goals will go unachieved this year.
Kerr is not playing for his high school team in this, his final season at Falls Church. Nor will he play for the United States National Youth Team. In both cases rules and regulations have done what opponents on a soccer field have been unable to do--stop Kerr cold.
One year ago, Kerr was leading the Falls Church Jaguars to a place in the Northern Region tournament. However, he also played for Montgomery United, a powerful club team in Maryland, although the Virginia High School League's "independent team rule" prohibits a student from playing the same sport for a high school team and a club team when the seasons run concurrently.
Officials at the VHSL, the governing body for the extracurricular activities of most Virginia public high schools, apparently were unaware of Kerr's violation of the independent team rule, and he finished the season without protests being filed against him or his high school team.
Because of the national and local attention Kerr's talent has drawn, Kerr didn't dare play for both teams again this year. "I knew I'd get caught," he said. So he had to choose between his school or his club.
He chose his club. While he is basically happy with that decision, he said he believes the VHSL rule "is keeping me from enhancing my soccer career."
Kerr disagrees with the league's argument that playing for two teams hampers a student academically.
"The thing about it the rule is that the league would allow me to play another sport for the high school but not the same sport I'm playing for the club team," said Kerr, a B student who was also a starter on this year's varsity basketball team. "So it would still take up a lot of time."
Further, Kerr noted that last year, while playing for both teams, his academic performance did not suffer.
Kerr said he opted to play for his club team because it will compete nationally in the prestigious McGuire Cup this spring. But he acknowledged it was difficult to turn down "my close friends at school who urged me to play with them."
Kerr has never told his high school coach, Paul Tiscornia, that he played for the club team last spring. But Tiscornia does know that he is without Kerr this season, and he is unhappy with the league's rule.
"The rule makes the high school league laughable," Tisconria said. "It's a discriminatory rule. In gymnastics, golf, tennis and swimming kids can do both play for school and club teams . It doesn't do what it's supposed to do--protect a kid's intellectual and social well-being by limiting his sports activities.
"John could have played on the school baseball team this spring and that would have been fine with the league. It's an emotional decision to ask a kid to make."
Claudia Dodson, a sports supervisor for the VHSL in Charlottesville who frequently provides interpretations of the independent team rule, said, "It is an educationally sound position. Everyone benefits by making a commitment."
As for the fact that the rule does not cover gymnastics, golf, swimming and tennis, Dodson said: "I don't agree with those exceptions. The rule should apply for all. But in recent years there has been a deluge of individuals who are capable physically of participating simultaneously in all those sports. In those four sports, students travel with independent teams for experience and participation. The high school coaches asked for a change because they argued that, if a student is of that caliber, he or she deserves the experience another team offers ."
When it comes to playing the same sport outside the high school, she said, "we get a lot of requests for soccer, people saying, 'Please let us go and play where we want to.' We the league don't want disruption on the high school teams. We don't want kids pulled in opposite directions."
Because of his talent, Kerr is in demand at several levels of soccer. He turned down the offers of the Cosmos, the team of such soccer greats as Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia, partially on the advice of his father, John Kerr Sr., a former professional soccer player who is head of the North American Soccer League Players Union.
"I wanted to go to a good college anyway," the younger Kerr said. "Besides, there's no money in the pros now."
Tiscornia believes the younger Kerr could have made the Cosmos team this year, despite his age. "He reads the game so well," he said. "He has the dedication, discipline and skills to play pro."
Other coaches, including those of the United States National Youth Team, also admire Kerr's talents. Kerr left a recent National Youth Team tryout in Sussex, N.J., feeling "positive about making it." He was to return for a final tryout in Princeton, N.J., this week, after which, if he made the team, he would compete for the United States internationally.
However, he has learned that because he was born in Canada and is six months short of being an American citizen he is ineligible for the team, which will be formed by the end of this month.