Death of a hoop dream

By MIKE MILIARD  |  August 28, 2008

This past fall, at the beginning of his senior year, Hornsby Jr. approached Labrie. “He said, ‘I’m gonna go out for the team.’ I said, ‘You can’t. Your grades are so bad, there’s no way you’re gonna be able to do it.’ ” He admired Hornsby Jr.’s tenacity, but Labrie confesses that he “figured he was just a lousy student.” Still, “we kind of laughed about it, and I said, ‘Yeah, okay. We’ll see what happens. I’ll get a progress report halfway through and see how you do.’ ”

Hornsby Jr. promised him a 3.0 GPA. Labrie figured he’d sooner see Ray Allen miss two consecutive free throws.

080828_coach_main
LIFE COACH: Central High basketball coach Mike Labrie helped Hornsby Jr. raise his grades and make the basketball team.
A dramatic U-turn
Even if he could get his grades up to snuff, there would be a snag. Hornsby Jr., a fifth-year senior, had already used up his four years of Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association eligibility. (By state rule, a person is only considered a high-school student for exactly four years from when he or she enters ninth grade.)

A waiver to bend the rules can be issued, but a player must prove a hardship that’s slowed down their academic progress. (As an indication of how rare such instances are, Labrie had never before applied for one in his quarter-century coaching career.) But Hornsby Jr. had indeed suffered a hardship.

His mother remembers him passing out while playing in a football game at the beginning of his freshman year. “They ran tests, and at first thought it was a case of pneumonia,” she says. But when she saw him lying listlessly for weeks after the diagnosis, she suspected something more serious. “I knew that was not him.”

Eventually correctly diagnosed with nephritic syndrome (a kidney disorder), Hornsby Jr. was placed on a regimen of steroids and high-blood-pressure pills. He improved physically, but for a while it was tough going. He missed a lot of class, and had to go to night school. And “for a time,” says Monique Hornsby, “he went into almost a depression. When you’re a child and someone tells you you’re diagnosed with something like this, you just don’t understand it.”

“He dropped off this packet, about two inches thick,” Labrie remembers. “All his medical records for the past two years. It was pretty bad. They had misdiagnosed [him], and put him on the wrong medication. He’d had to quit basketball. He played a couple games of JV, and that was it. He went to night school, and at that point he basically became a troubled kid and didn’t care about school.”

He was about to start caring about school.

“I waited to get the progress report before I went to get the waiver,” says Labrie. “I got it from his teachers, about a month into classes — he was getting straight A’s.”

To the astonishment of everyone but perhaps himself, Hornsby Jr. had made a dramatic U-turn. When final grades came out, two days before tryouts, he’d earned a 3.57 GPA.

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