Monday will be a big day for three South Sudanese basketball players who were rocketed into the news this week.
It also will be a big day for Mooseheart, the school near Batavia that the boys attend, as well as the surrounding community.
After sitting out last season – per Illinois High School Association transfer eligibility requirements – and playing several games this year, the three junior basketball players who came to Mooseheart from South Sudan were deemed Nov. 29 to be ineligible to play by IHSA executive director Marty Hickman.
That declaration came with the contention that Mooseheart inappropriately brought the students to its campus for athletic reasons through A-HOPE – or African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education – program; however, a Kane County judge Tuesday granted a restraining order that allows juniors Akim Nyang, Makur Puou and Mangisto Deng to continue playing basketball until the IHSA Board of Directors reviews the matter Monday.
It is a developing situation that evokes emotion. Nyang, Puou and Deng, who stand at 7 foot 1, 6 foot 10 and 6 foot 7, respectively, have become well known at their school. By coming to Mooseheart, the trio escaped a dangerous country where war is prevalent and – according to the school’s executive director, Scott Hart – the boys could have been forced to become child soldiers.
That being the case, it was hard not to cheer when the announcement came Tuesday about the boys being able to play, at least temporarily.
The next day, fans flocked to the Mooseheart basketball game at Hinckley-Big Rock, where some attendees were turned away because of sold-out crowd capacity.
That matchup, in particular, garnered attention because it was Bill Sambrookes, the athletic director and boys basketball coach at Hinckley-Big Rock, who contacted the IHSA eight months before the season started to question the A-HOPE organization.
The timing of Hickman’s ruling before the Hinckley-Big Rock game aside, the IHSA’s handling of Nyang, Puou and Deng’s eligibility comes off as poor – the boys sat out all last year and finally played four games this season, only to be told that they might not be able to continue playing at all.
In addition, the IHSA decision would strip a fourth South Sudanese student, Wal Khat, of a cross country medal that he won recently at state.
Mooseheart is not known as a basketball powerhouse. It is a school that serves children and teens in need, and of the 216 students on campus, 20 to 30 of them are foreign-born, according to Hart.
The appeal at the IHSA headquarters in Bloomington on Monday is sure to garner much attention from the public and media.
It’s a sure bet that many are rooting for the boys at Mooseheart. We hope the appeals process results in a fair decision for the numerous parties involved, especially all the young athletes who will be affected by the outcome.