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‘Holdbacks’ have become common in high school sports

“I find it laughable and unfortunately acceptable that we praise kids as freshmen when they are 16-, 17-year-old kids who have been held back,” one reader wrote.

Another reader said his son is a “true” freshman, having turned 14 in September, and that “it is high time that CIF imposed a role requiring that no seniors can be over 18 on Sept. 1 of their final school year unless there were legitimate academic reasons to hold the player back for one year.”

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Another reader said, “A 16-year-old freshman? I was a fairly successful high school athlete, continued on at L.A. Valley and L.A. State [1952-55], but I was a 16-year-old junior.”

Sorry to break the news to those who haven’t been following trends, but parents have been electing to delay entrance into kindergarten for a son or daughter or have them repeat a grade for years, either because of the desire to have them enter high school with more maturity, be a little taller, be academically more sound or yes, be better prepared to succeed athletically.

My earliest recollection of an “older” sophomore was almost 40 years ago. His name: John Elway. He entered Granada Hills High in 1976 as a 16-year-old sophomore and graduated days from being a 19-year-old.

The difference, though, is that “holdbacks” have reached levels unseen from 20 years ago, especially in high school basketball.

Dinos Trigonis, a longtime basketball travel coach, said, “You’re finding being held back is becoming the norm. It’s something going on for years, but more than ever you’re finding people dangerously close to the 20-year-old line.”

Under CIF rules, athletes can’t turn 19 before June 15 of their senior year to be eligible. There seems to be far more 19-year-old seniors than ever before.

Public schools in California don’t allow parents to have their children repeat a grade for athletic or social reasons, but lots of private schools don’t seem to have an issue with that and home schooling is another option.

College recruiters don’t shy away from recruiting “older” seniors. And USA Basketball lists the date of birth of its players on national team rosters, because proof of age is required for competing in FIBA international tournaments.

In Louisiana, the state athletic association has a rule: “Encouraging students or establishing an academic program that facilitates students who have successfully completed the academic requirements set forth for passing the sixth, seventh, or eighth grade level to repeat one or more of these grades for athletic purposes by a school administrator, an athletic director, a coach or anyone connected with the athletic program of an LHSAA school shall be prohibited.”

Sierra Canyon Coach Ty Nichols said it’s an advantage to have five years instead of four to develop as a player.

In the end, it comes down to parental choice on the matter, and these days, repeating a grade has become common in the sports scene.


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