Jay’len Carter of Manual Arts had tough choice: Basketball or valedictorian

All-City guard Jay'len Carter of Manual Arts will be the school's valedictorian. Manual Arts dropped its team this season.
All-City guard Jay’len Carter of Manual Arts will be the school’s valedictorian. Manual Arts dropped its team this season.
(Courtesy of Evelyn Mosley)

No teenager should have been put into the predicament experienced by All-City basketball player Jay’len Carter of Manual Arts High.

When the Los Angeles Unified School District finally gave its approval for high school basketball teams to begin playing this month after being shut down for more than a year because of COVID-19, Manual Arts decided not to field a team.

Carter faced a choice: Transfer to a school that played basketball or stay to fulfill his dream of becoming Manual Arts’ valedictorian.

“Of course, I chose my award because I worked hard for it,” he said this week.

At 6 feet 5, the senior averaged 24 points a game as a junior. He tried to get the City Section to allow him to play for another program while attending Manual Arts. He was told no, he’d have to enroll at another school.

He had worked hard in the classroom to achieve a 4.2 grade-point average, so he was left not being able to represent his school playing basketball this season. It’s a sad reminder of the impact COVID-19 has had on high school athletes.


Carter never thought the shutdown that began in March of 2020 would last so long.

“I thought it would be a two-week quarantine, then back to normal,” he said. “That wasn’t the case.”

Manual Arts apparently couldn’t meet LAUSD record-keeping and testing protocol requirements, leaving Carter without a team.

“Life is bigger than basketball, even though it’s my passion,” he said. “School comes first.”

On graduation day next month, Carter will get to offer his classmates a speech.

“Mostly I’ll focus on different obstacles I faced,” he said. “I really want to inspire my peers.”

He already has by showing that his future is tied to education.