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January 3, 2011

Arnett's bowl participation ends playing days

MORE ARMY BOWL Ministry is top priority for All-American Ray Drew | Complete coverage

SAN ANTONIO - For 95 of the 96 players at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Saturday's game represents the final moment of their high school football career.

For Saginaw (Mich.) High wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett, the game represents the last moment of his high school athletic career.

A seemingly outdated - if not nonsensical - rule in Michigan makes athletes ineligible to compete in any high school competition for the rest of their scholastic career if they compete in an all-star event.

Because of it, Arnett will miss out on an opportunity to play basketball and run track - two sports where he potentially could have won state titles.

"That rule needs to change in a hurry," Arnett said. "It's just holding kids back, limiting our options and opportunities. What is the point?

"It's just terrible."

It's also a state rule that Michigan High School Athletic Association official John Johnson said no member school has proposed to change in his 24 years with the group.

Johnson said the rule represents a philosophical decision by the schools in the state - one where the team dynamic is valued over individual excellence.

"Schools in our state have historically frowned upon all-star games," he said. "Schools feel this brings too much attention to an individual."

Saginaw High athletic director (and boys basketball coach) Lou Dawkins isn't so sure.

He's been around long enough to know the rule - and know the rule isn't going to change - but that doesn't mean he agrees with it.

For Dawkins, it's not about a chance to win games, but simply to play in them.

"It's the memories of being around your friends and teammates," Dawkins said. "He has to give up a lot of his dreams."

It hasn't been easy.

"I was sick to my stomach just watching them in the first (basketball) game," Arnett said. "It hurt so bad.

"These are the guys I've been playing with since the 2nd and 3rd grade. To not be out there with them is killing me. If I was out there, we'd win the state championship for sure."

So why not play - why not skip the game?

Arnett, the No. 2 rated recruit in the state who is headed to the University of Tennessee, said the chance to compete in practice all week and then play in a game with the nation's best players was an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

His Saginaw team was just 1-8. This week will be the first chance all season for Arnett to see how he matches up with players of his caliber.

Dawkins hated losing his point guard, but he wholeheartedly agreed with the decision.

"He wants to be in that atmosphere," he said. "He approached me when he found out he might get invited. I gave my blessing.

"It's not selfish; it's an honor. In today's high school football, it's one of the greatest honors out there."

Arnett is not the first player to have to make this decision. Two other top recruits also opted to play in the game.

Muskegon (Mich.) High wide receiver Ronald Johnson played in the 2007 game before heading to USC. Oak Park (Mich.) High running back Edwin Baker played in the 2009 before heading to Michigan State.

The precedent, however, doesn't make the predicament any more tolerable for Arnett.

"If they changed the rule today, I'd be out with (the basketball team) tomorrow," he said.

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