Parade all-America Perry Carter, one of the top high school basketball players in the nation, will not be able to play his senior year at Gonzaga next season because he is too old to play under the Metro Conference age requirement.
Carter, a 6-foot-7, 200-pound junior who repeated the seventh grade, will turn 19 on Aug. 25. The Metro Conference stipulates that any student who turns 19 before Sept. 1 is ineligible for athletics. Carter appealed that ruling but has been turned down.
So Carter will play his senior season at the Maine Central Institute in Pittsfield, a private school that has a postgraduate program in which Carter will be allowed to play basketball. Gonzaga helped arrange the transfer and also will allow Carter to get a Gonzaga diploma and graduate with his class next spring.
Last season, Carter made second-team All-Met, averaging 15 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots. He teamed with All-Met Mark Tillmon to lead the Purple Eagles to a school-record 26 victories (including three over DeMatha) and their first basketball championship in more than three decades.
Gonzaga Coach Dick Myers and the school administration knew three years ago that Carter would not meet the age requirement but decided to wait until the conclusion of his junior year and request a waiver that would give him an additional year.
The Gonzaga administration and Carter felt there was a slim chance of getting the extra year because conference commissioner J. Dallas Shirley had ruled in favor of another student, Mackin's Gordon Clarke, who requested and was granted an extra year several years ago.
But a committee made up of conference principals and athletic directors recommended the request be denied. This time, Shirley followed the committee's request, despite an impassioned plea on Carter's behalf by Gonzaga President Bernard Dooley.
"I made a mistake in giving that student that extra year," Shirley said. "It was an error by me. The rules in the constitution are very clear, and when it was brought to my attention, I openly admitted I just goofed. But you don't make the same mistake twice. It's written there in black and white. All the coaches know the rules, but there's nothing wrong with asking for a waiver . They should know they'll be turned down."
Shirley said that in his nine years as commissioner, only two students have requested an additional year because of age.
Myers and Dooley said they understood the ruling's rationale.
"I understand the spirit of the rule and what it is designed to do," Myers said. "It prohibits coaches and parents from redshirting kids, etc., but none of those reasons would apply to Perry. Perry has been nothing but terrific here and matured quite a bit. He's a quiet individual, and I was very disappointed in the committee's decision.
"We knew three years ago Perry would be too old to play his senior year, but we decided to just wait and deal with that issue when the time came. We felt his staying here those three years Carter entered in the ninth grade would be to his benefit. When his final year came, we would ask for a waiver."
Said Dooley: "Since a student at Mackin requested and was granted an extra year two years ago, we thought Perry might get the same opportunity. We would like to see Perry stay here, not because of basketball, but because he has grown so much and benefited from his experience here."
Carter has "done extremely well academically here," Myers said, "and he's gotten as many recruiting letters from colleges as any kid we've ever had. He's just a terrific young man, and we thought it would be in his best interest for him to stay here. But there's nothing we can do about it."
Carter said he was disappointed by the decision but understood why it was reached. Some of his disappointment was eased recently when he was accepted by the Maine Central Insitute and given a scholarship to attend and play in the school's postgraduate program against college freshman and junior varsity teams.
"Perry is very important to us, and we didn't want to send him just anywhere," Myers said. "We looked around the area and elsewhere to find what we felt was the perfect situation for him."
Carter said he had hoped to finish his basketball career at Gonzaga but was not bitter. "I'm not going to cry about the decision," Carter said. "I can understand why they turned me down. It would be open season for every other student who wanted an extra year in the Metro Conference."
Carter repeated the seventh grade because of absenteeism and what he described as "hanging with the wrong crowd. No one had to tell me I had done something wrong," he said. "I got myself together."
Since that year, he has done very well academically. He was an honor roll student in the eighth grade and qualified for admittance to Gonzaga, which is highly regarded academically. He is now a B student in the core curriculum of courses required by the NCAA.
"Perry had very good grades and wasn't required to take an admittance test to get in Gonzaga," said Gonzaga assistant coach Donavan (Duck) Ricks, Carter's coach at Langley Junior High and a close friend. "It isn't easy for inner-city kids to get in Gonzaga, but Perry was qualified and has done well academically."
When he learned that Carter could not play at Gonzaga, Myers explored the possibility of a transfer to a private school in the Washington area. But those schools either had similar cutoff dates for eligibility or other problems regarding Carter's transfer.
"One coach told me, if he took Carter, no one would play him," Myers said.
Carter would have been eligible to compete in the Interhigh League players cannot turn 19 before July 1 but he said he had no intention of transferring to a D.C. public school.
"A few coaches who knew about my situation apporached me, and I told them I hadn't made up my mind as to my intentions," Carter said. "I did know I wasn't going to any Interhigh school.
"I'm looking forward to going to Maine. I'm not worried about the academics, and I will get a good opportunity to work on my basketball game. I don't think going away will be a big adjustment for me. I'm not the shy little boy I used to be any more. I've matured quite a bit and I feel good about myself."
Carter said he is looking forward to walking across the stage and graduating with his Gonzaga senior class in June 1987. MCI finishes its school year in mid-April, and Carter will be allowed to return to Gonzaga for the school's final six weeks.
Carter says he will celebrate his birthday on Aug. 25, but it will be a bittersweet affair.
"I guess it won't be the usual happy occasion," Carter said. "In this instance, I guess I wish I was born a few days later."