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Academy Soccer Stars Still Honored by Schools They Didn't Play For as Seniors

Schools had to decide if they wanted to recognize students who were athletes but had left prep programs to play for Academy soccer programs under new national guidelines.

To celebrate or not celebrate, that was the question.

As many high schools seniors around the area made their college choices official followed by ceremonies to recognize the athletes for their accomplishment, schools faced something of a conundrum:

Do you celebrate athletes who in part may have earned their college scholarships based on what they did away from the high school playing fields?

With USA Soccer's decision to force elite prep soccer players to choose between their high schools and their academy programs in effect for the first time this season, traditional St. Louis soccer programs like De Smet Jesuit, CBC and Priory each faced that decision. Brian Hail, the 2011 Post-Dispatch Player Of The Year at De Smet Jesuit, Priory's Jeffrey Hopson and CBC's Austin Ledbetter and Conner Sendobry all opted to play for the Scott Gallagher Academy program instead of their high school programs as seniors.

Each was included in school ceremonies last week.

"I kind of just let it go," said Hail, a senior from Kirkwood headed for the University of Wisconsin. "I know a lot of my teammates on the academy have been not able to sign and kind of been scrutinized for not playing high school so. I’m just glad that De Smet really welcomed me and was ok about it," he said.

Hail's high school coach, Greg Vitello has asked rhetorically in the past why student-athletes would not want to play for high school programs, but Hail said Vitello has been "nice" about the dilemma.

"Priory has been so good about it. They've respected my decision," Hopson, a Chesterfield senior bound for Northwestern said after he was feted in the school library, surrounded by classmates and his family. He said the toughest part was making the choice last summer. Hopson was a key cog in the school's undefeated state title team in 2011.  

"I just felt bad for him that he was put in that position to have to choose, but as a school we weren't going to reject him as one of our own and I never held it against Jeffrey," Priory Head Coach John Mohrmann said, adding that Hopson was often out supporting his former prep teammates as a fan on the sidelines. Both student and coach pointed out how Priory's academics were a key factor in gettin prepared for what lies ahead at Northwestern.

"He's part of the school, he's part of this class so we celebrate that," Mohrmann said. 

The academy vs. high school debate played out all the way until the state championship in 2012. Chaminade, featuring a squad full of academy talent which decided to stay together in the high school ranks, lost in the state finals to a CBC club which was missing two players in Austin Ledbetter and Conner Sendobry who did go that route.

"They chose to play away from school but stay in school as students, so credit to them for continuing their education at CBC and credit to CBC for honoring them as student athletes," longtime CBC Varsity Soccer Coach Terry Michler said. 

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