Jahmir Harris, a top high school basketball player, lost a season to COVID, denied fifth year of eligibility
Jahmir Harris is 18 years old in his senior year at Fordham Prep in New York City, but the basketball player's future was turned upside down a year ago.
Last year, Harris was widely considered the team's best player and helped lift the Fordham Prep boys basketball team to a New York City Catholic League championship.
That same league has produced all-time greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, five-time NBA All-Star Chris Mullin and current Charlotte Hornets point guard and Bronx native Kemba Walker.
Harris, a power forward, has a unique blend of size and athleticism. He can easily grab over ten rebounds on a given night and can go outside and shoot from beyond the 3-point arc.
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But this season, Harris has become merely a spectator and a cheerleader for his teammates after he learned he would not be able to suit up. Like many other players, Harris' high school basketball playing days came to an abrupt halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His career was interrupted a second time in November, just before the season was set to tip off, when he was informed he was no longer eligible to take the court.
“Everybody was saying they’ll help me, and ‘We’ll still do this,” and I’ll be able to play in college. They’ll find a way,” Harris told The New York Times. “But when they told me it was over, that’s when I broke down and started crying.”
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Now, as Harris enters his final months of high school, it remains unclear if he will be able to live out his lifelong dreams of playing college basketball.
The NCAA allowed college athletes impacted by COVID-related restrictions to take advantage of an extra year of eligibility, but some high school leagues decided against enacting similar policies.
Harris became one of the students affected by his high school league's decision. During the onset of COVD-19 in 2020, Harris was in his sophomore year at a public high school in Ossining, New York, and was learning in a virtual classroom.
Sensing that Harris was not adjusting well, his parents applied to a private school, Fordham Prep. In the application, his parents, Tosha and Kenroy, mentioned their son needed “a structured educational program.” Harris was soon accepted and repeated his sophomore year at Fordham Prep.
He continued to participate in remote learning after he was first accepted at Fordham Prep because his parents were considered high risk for contracting the coronavirus due to preexisting medical conditions.
The basketball season was canceled during Harris' sophomore year at Fordham Prep because of the city's COVID-19 restrictions. For years, AAU has served as a popular supplement to high school basketball leagues, but that circuit was impacted at the onset of the pandemic.
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Several months later, in December 2020, Harris' mother Tosha sent a letter to the Catholic High School Athletic Association to request that her son be permitted to play in his junior and senior seasons. Playing two more seasons at the high school level meant Harris would need to be granted a fifth year of eligibility.
After Harris and his parents received their vaccine shots in 2021, he began preparing to go to Fordham Prep's campus for classes and basketball.
He would soon be named a starter for the 2021-22 season. Several Division I college programs were reaching out to Harris and asking him to attend summer camps.
Meanwhile, Tosha was routinely following up with Fordham Prep athletics officials to learn whether the request for her son to play two more years was approved.
A New York State rule grants students “four consecutive seasons of athletic eligibility,” but athletics officials said there were some informal talks about possibly making an exception for Harris due to his “unique family medical circumstances.”
In June 2022, the school said it learned Harris would not be allowed to play during his senior season, but Harris still participated in preseason workouts as the appeals process played out.
Kevin Pigott, president of the CHSAA of the Archdiocese of New York, noted that he told school officials that Harris would not be eligible to play as a senior when his transfer paperwork was initially submitted. Pigott also mentioned that the CHSAA told the athletic directors that an extension would not be granted because of a missed season due to COVID-19.
Pigott said he was part of the five-person committee that reviewed Harris’ appeal and unanimously decided to deny the eligibility extension. Fordham Prep then made its final appeal in September.
Fox News Digital contacted Pigott about the decision to deny Harris' appeal.
“The decision of the Archdiocesan Boys' CHSAA Executive Committee and the Archdiocesan Appeals Committee was based on New York State law,” Pigott said in an emailed response. “Jahmir's fifth-year of school was voluntarily chosen by his parents. His situation did not require him to attend school for one or more additional semesters. Thus, his request for an athletic fifth-year was not necessitated by a need for an academic fifth-year as prescribed in Rule 135.4.”
Meanwhile, Harris thrived in the classroom during his senior year, earning a 3.9 GPA. In November, as the start of the season drew near, Tosha decided to ask the team's coach, Brian Downey, and Fordham Prep’s athletic director, Anthony Kurtin, about the situation.
Kurtin called Tosha and told her Harris' fate. She shared with her son the decision as he rode the train home fromm school.
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Harris decided to keep practicing with his team. Fordham Prep even covered the expenses for him to travel with the team to an out-of-state basketball tournament. He played on a travel AAU team last summer and received an offer to play at a charter school. He ultimately turned the offer down and continued taking classes at Fordham Prep.
As Fordham Prep begins its defense of a city championship in the Catholic league playoffs, Harris will continue to look on from the bench while his family is left with a laundry list of unanswered questions.