Mooseheart High School students from Africa can play on basketball team, judge rules

December 4, 2012 (GENEVA, Ill.)

They also won an important victory in court, when a Kane County judge said students from Africa can play on the Mooseheart High School basketball team, at least for now. It is a ruling that says a strong dose of discipline from the IHSA came with too much haste.

The ABC7 I-Team first reported on the lawsuit over the students in an exclusive report Monday.

They arrived last year at Mooseheart as students, four young men from war-ravaged Sudan, three of whom are on the basketball team. They are very tall and skilled.

"We aren't used to playing someone 11 inches taller. And they're also good," said Stan Brandon, grandparent of a Westminster player.

On the eve of a game, the IHSA declared the Sudanese players permanently ineligible, contending they had been recruited for sport. Mooseheart attorneys contended Tuesday in court that that is not true, that the school had played by the rules and the players had sat out for year, as required, and that barring them now is akin to executing a defendant before he has gone on trial.

Judge David Akemann ruled that there must be a hearing before any discipline and the players have not had that hearing, and until they do, they can keep playing.

The head of the IHSA issued a statement Tuesday night. "We are respectful of Judge Akemann's decision, though we are dissapointed in his view of how our membership's rules are to be applied," the statement read.

"This school had nothing to do with recruiting any student-athletes," said attorney Peter Rush. "It's 100-year history is proof in and of itself. That is not its mission, and that is not its function."

A conference rival, Hinckley-Big Rock, had complained to the IHSA that the arrival of the tall Sudanese students at Mooseheart had made for an uneven playing field.

One of those student-athletes, 18-year-old Makur Puou, says he did not come to Mooseheart just to play basketball.

"My goal was to get a good education, to get education so I can be successful and help my country...and help my family," said Puou.

On Monday, Mooseheart will argue its case to the IHSA.

"We are very confident that when we have the hearing on Monday, justice will be served," said Mooseheart Executive Director Scott Hart. "We will get a fair and impartial hearing before the board of directors, and we look forward to their opinion."

Judge Akemann said Tuesday that courts typically are reluctant to get involved in disciplinary decisions of voluntary associations, which the IHSA is, but the judge also said that there is a disciplinary process that has to be followed, and that will play out next Monday in Bloomington.

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