A teacher had told him to study all night and take the makeup test last Friday that could determine whether he'll graduate this week, but James Hall Jr. had other plans, and skipped school to get ready for the senior prom. He plans to take the test today instead.
It wasn't the first time that academics were a second priority for Hall, a 6-foot-3 inch, 215 pound linebacker. In a school system where many youngsters experience problems with reading, Hall tested better than 10th grade ability in ninth grade.
But he will graduate 290th in his class with a 1.5 grade average--too low for the major college athletic scholarship he had hoped for--and instead will attend junior college in Utah.
Hall says he has learned his lesson and has a different short-term goal in mind now. "I wish I had worked a little harder on the academics. I told myself going to Utah will be a good challenge. I want to test myself and see how much I can deal with. Everybody tells me it's going to be rough. I want to play pro ball. That's my dream."
Hall, 18, is by no means another dumb jock. In conversation he is bright, witty and articulate. His principals, teachers and counselors describe him as a personable, well mannered youth who doesn't fool around with drugs or alcohol, who could have earned higher grades if he had worked for them.
His problem was that sports became paramount in his life, to the detriment of his studies.
"He felt that all he had to do was play sports and that he would make it," says Maceo Hutcherson, chairman of the Ballou guidance department. "The 1.5 average is not indicative of what he can do. There's no reason why he couldn't have been a B student."
Rick Alexander, the Ballou assistant football coach, said, "He was mentioned as an outstanding college prospect. He'd have gotten a free ride," meaning a full, four-year college scholarship.
As it turned out, however, his academic problems prevented him from playing his senior year.
Hall took it hard, says Alexander, "but it was for the best. He realized he had to be a student first, and that his grades are more important."
The high school thrills are over now and Hall faces the dramatic shift from Southeast Washington to Eastern Utah Junior College with a quiet determination.
As far as he is concerned, the dream of playing top flight college football for the likes of Nebraska has only been put on hold for two years, and his ultimate goal of playing for the Washington Redskins is still alive.
"It's rough, coming to the end like this, but I figure I'll go to Utah and get everything back on track," said Hall, who feels he is better off improving his studies at a junior college first. "I could have gotten into a Division I college, but the problem is: could I keep up there? There's no need in going up there and falling behind academically."
Ballou's principal, Dennis C. Johnson, says Hall is an example of a likable teen-ager with a lot of potential who didn't try nearly as hard as he could have.
"He's a really good young man, but James has earned what not working gets you--just getting by," Johnson says.
Hall says that when he was in junior high school he had no problem mixing academics with football, but that playing both basketball and football in high school took up a lot of his time and energy.
"It's tough playing two sports," says Hall, adding that he spends a lot of his free time playing basketball to stay in shape. He says he came home from practice in the afternoon "dead tired" and when it came to studying at night, "for some reason I can't sit there. I just can't get myself to concentrate like I really should."
Remembering a summer when he went to a linebacker camp at Penn State University, he says he realizes that what he really wants to do is apply himself in his classes and do well enough to graduate in two years and go to a Division I school for football.
"Going from high school to the pros," Hall says, "I know the chances are real slim, but I can honestly say that if I do what I am capable of doing I feel I can make it. The main thing I have to concentrate on is studying. In 10th grade, I caught myself putting sports in front of academics. I have to put academics ahead of sports."
His father, James Hall Sr., a postal worker, shares his son's hopes.
"I would like to see him go and fulfill his dreams and at the same time continue his education," he said. "I sure would like to see him succeed."