Among the mountains of college applications and scholarship forms Borah High senior Mark Jerome filled out this year, he admits that he just took a stab at the United States Senate Youth Program.
Jerome had no expectation of winning the $5,000 scholarship program, which goes to 104 people across the nation and comes with an all-expenses-paid weeklong trip to study the inner workings of Washington, D.C.
So when the offices of Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo picked Jerome, he was ecstatic.
Until he looked at the calendar.
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The March 5-12 trip starts the final day of the boys basketball state tournament. Jerome, a senior captain and starting guard for the No. 1-ranked Lions, can suit up for Thursday and Friday games of the 5A tournament at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa, but accepting the D.C. trip means he would miss the state championship game on March 5 if Borah makes it.
“It was the toughest decision I’ve had in my life so far,” Jerome said. “It took lots of thought and lots of prayer. I was thinking about it nonstop.”
Unsure what to do, Jerome first consulted with fellow Borah seniors DeAndre Jones and Rylan Bergersen, whom he’s played on club teams with since the fourth grade. He explained how he’d spend the week touring the Senate, NASA and the Pentagon. He will hear policy addresses from Cabinet members and officials from the departments of State and Defense. And barring a presidential emergency, he’ll meet President Barack Obama.
With his friends’ approval, he approached the rest of his teammates. Still looking for someone to tell him to stay, he then spoke with his coaches.
All of them told Jerome that he’d be a fool not to go.
“We were just excited for him, happy for him,” Jones said. “We obviously told him he had to go to this. … That’s his future. He gets to go meet the president? That’s just crazy. That’s a lot more important than one basketball game.”
The trip fulfills a lifelong interest for Jerome: public service. He started as a sophomore representative at Borah before becoming the student body president this year. Last summer, he was elected governor in the Gem Boys State program, an American Legion event that teaches students from around Idaho how local and state governments work.
Jerome’s top college choice remains the United States Military Academy at West Point, one of four schools to already accept him and his 4.1 weighted grade-point average. One day he hopes to return to Idaho and run for office as either a state representative or state senator.
“With all that, I’ve realized I like to have a say in what happens and what I’m involved in, whether it’s my school, my state,” Jerome said. “... And I’d like to help our country go on the right course.”
Borah basketball coach Cary Cada said he’s not surprised Jerome is already making a name for himself. The only thing that does surprise the coach is that there haven’t been more conflicts because of Jerome’s loaded schedule: school, basketball, student government and volunteer work.
“I think he’s a born leader, to be honest with you,” Cada said. “Whether he’s a colonel at West Point or the student body president at Stanford, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. That’s his gift. That’s his strength, and that’s what he’s going to be.”
Jerome said he worked every avenue possible to remain with his team through the entire 5A state tournament, even asking whether he could pay for his own flight and arrive early Sunday for the Senate Youth Program. But security briefings for the government buildings he’ll spend the week in nullified any workarounds.
Jones said the Lions will miss Jerome’s leadership and energy. And despite his 5-foot-11 frame, Jerome and Jake Paulin team up to guard every opponent’s top player, regardless of position. He still sports a black eye he received while taking a charge against Rocky Mountain last week to clinch a state tournament berth.
So while the Lions spent the past six weeks ranked No. 1 (or tied) in the state media poll, the road to the state championship game and a record 12th state title becomes harder without Jerome, a two-year starter.
“Mark feels horrible about it,” Cada said. “But what we’ve discussed is, if you want to make this right — if you think it warrants it — is just do everything you can to make sure we get to that game.”
U.S. Senate Youth Program
▪ The program selects 104 students for scholarships — two from each state, two from the District of Columbia and two whose parents are serving in the military abroad.
▪ Borah’s Mark Jerome earned the scholarship and trip to Washington, D.C., after completing a nearly 100-question test and writing an essay.
▪ Jerome’s essay was on how the crowded Republican presidential primary field would help the GOP because of the publicity it created and the opportunity to find the best candidate.