Above all else, athletic endeavors are supposed to teach kids lessons for life.

On a pseudo-exam given Dec. 14 at West Catholic High, the across-the-board grade for Rob Hollomon and five close buddies was a resounding A-plus.

One day earlier, the football Burrs, covered in stardust all season and most folks' solid (if not overwhelming) favorite, had suffered a devastating loss - 35-34 in two overtimes - to Wilmington in the PIAA Class AA state final in Hershey.

If Hollomon and the other football players had skipped basketball practice that next day, everyone would have understood. In fact, coach Bill Ludlow had put out the word that their participation was not required.

But as the gymnasium door swing open, and the basketballs began to bounce, there they were, partaking and earning respect.

The football aftermath was a natural topic of conversation last night after West swooshed past Cardinal O'Hara, 62-48, in the championship game of the latter's Christmas tournament.

With 15 points, three assists and four steals, the 5-8, 160-pound Hollomon, a senior combination guard, was one of West's headliners.

He was even better afterward, when he was asked to flash back to mid-December and did not kindly - or even not so kindly, no offense would have been taken - ask a reporter to come up with another line of questioning.

"That loss was rough," Hollomon said. "It hurt a lot the first week and it still bothered me into the second week.

"Now? I'm over it. I don't like that it happened, and that'll never change, but I'm learning not to dwell on it. I'm looking forward to all the great things that are still going to happen in my life."

Hollomon insisted there was no organized, be-sure-you-make-it-to-practice effort for himself and fellow starters Haleem "P-Nut" Hayward and Brandon Williamson, subs Dwayne Shaw and Brandon Hollomon (yes, Rob's brother) and Sharif Williams, a JV player.

The bus ride back to Philly was long and mostly quiet, and afterward the players mostly went their separate ways. Upon awakening the next day, Hollomon wasn't sure what the other gridders-hoopsters were going to do. Didn't think of contacting them, either.

"I thought a little bit of not going," he admitted. "But I knew my brother was going and I didn't think that'd be right - him there and me not. We both went. It came down to this: I knew I was strong enough [emotionally] to get right back out there doing something else I love.

"Right away I knew I'd made the right decision. It felt nice to jump right in. Those couple hours were fun. I didn't think about football at all . . . Of course, I did right after practice ended, but I was still glad I went."

Hollomon, who shared the tailback position with Raymond "Syrup" Maples, finished his career with one-season city records for rushing touchdowns (36) and overall six-pointers (42).

He is listening to assorted suitors from the I-A (Syracuse, North Carolina State, Navy) and I-AA levels (Villanova, Delaware) and is about to schedule official visits.

Wait. Visits are almost always made on weekends. Catholic League basketball games are often on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons.

"The coaches know I might have to miss some," Hollomon said. "Though I love both sports, football is going to be my future. I have to get myself set."

In this one, game-set-match occurred rather quickly.

With Hollomon and sophomore guard Aquil Younger buzzing around like crazy, West stormed to a 12-0 lead in 3-plus minutes.

Williamson finished with six points, six rebounds, three assists and five steals. Hayward added seven points. Shaw claimed eight rebounds. Younger whirlwinded his way to 15 points and eight assists.

The bulge reached 25 points, at 47-22, with 1:20 left in the third quarter. Ludlow, who collected his 200th career victory in 16 seasons, tried to go exclusively with subs in the fourth quarter. But when O'Hara's extras badly outplayed West's, slicing the deficit to 10 with 1:30 left, Ludlow waved two starters back onto the court.

Tim Gillespie, the 11th man into the game, experienced outrageous joy for O'Hara. After hitting a trey late in the third quarter, he drained four more shots (regulars) in a row to finish with 11 points.

Although Hollomon said he still catches himself watching a telecast of the football game and/or highlight tapes, he tries not to discuss it.

"I don't bring it up," he said, smiling. "If I get asked about it, I don't get into the strategy part too much [the game ended as West failed on a two-point run]. It was what it was. I'm OK with talking about the game itself and our season." *