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The Big Score - on the SAT

By Clay Wilson

Thomas Harley says he's keeping his college options open for now.

The 17-year-old Hampton resident said he's considered the Georgia Institute of Technology, but he's not quite ready to commit yet.

There's no real hurry. The rising Luella High School senior has at least half a year before he must make that decision. Plus, with almost-perfect grades and a perfect score on the SAT, Harley stands a good chance of getting into any school for which he applies.

Harley scored a 1600 on the SAT college entrance examination n 800 of 800 points on the test's math section, 800 of 800 points on the verbal section.

"I was pretty much dumbfounded," Harley said of the moment when he learned his score.

And he had reason to be. According to information from the College Board, the organization that formulates the Scholastic Assessment Test, in 2003 only 944 of the more than 1.4 million students who took the exam prior to high school graduation scored a 1600.

That puts Harley in the top 1 percent of SAT-takers in the nation.

Harley said he wasn't expecting to be among this elite number after he finished sitting for the exam on May 1. He said he was "very sick" on that day.

"I really had no feelings about the test because I felt so awful," he said. "I pretty much just wanted to get the thing over with.

"I really did not expect to do as well as I did," he said.

But if Harley is modest about his achievement, his grandmother isn't.

"I'm very proud. I'd like to shout his praises from the rooftops," said Elsie Holmes. Harley has lived with Holmes and her husband, James, since he was born. The Holmeses have raised him as a son.

"He was an extraordinary kid," Elsie Holmes said. "He started reading when he was probably 2."

Harley took the SAT for the first time in seventh grade. He scored a 1270 that time.

He boasts an impressive academic resume besides his 1600 on the SAT. He said he has a 3.94 unweighted grade point average.

The Holmeses' bookshelves hold several scrapbooks filled with Harley's awards. One of the books contains a card from Luella High School teacher Salvatore Angelica which reads, in part, "you are my first 1600 and probably the only one I'll have before I retire."

Angelica isn't the only one who took notice of Harley's achievement. At a meeting of the Hampton City Council last week, Hampton Mayor Hugh Lewis presented Harley with a certificate of achievement "in recognition of his outstanding SAT scores and academic accomplishments."

Despite his apparent academic disposition, by his own account Harley doesn't spend all his time hitting the books.

"When I'm here at home I spend just about all my time on my computer," he said. "I know many people who don't have any kind of relaxation, and I don't want that to happen to me."

And while, judging from his scholastic performance thus far, Harley might not "relax" academically during his senior year, at least he does have one of the biggest hurdles n the SAT n out of the way.

"I've got that behind me now," he said. "(That's) one less thing to worry about."