IHSA overturns Mooseheart recruiting case

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012 3:42 p.m. CDT

(MCT) — The Illinois High School Association has determined that three Sudanese athletes for Mooseheart High School are eligible to play, but the IHSA also sanctioned the school.

The state athletic governing body's executive director on Nov. 29 deemed Mangisto Deng, Akim Nyang and Makur Puou — all 6 feet, 7 inches and taller — ineligible to play for Mooseheart High School. The IHSA board reviewed the case and found them eligible today, the board president said this evening.

After nearly four hours of deliberation, the IHSA board voted unanimously to declare the students eligible.

The decision reversed IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman's ruling last month that barred the boys from playing.

But the board also sanctioned Mooseheart by placing it on probation and barring it from participating in the 2013 state basketball tournament until school officials institute training and compliance measures to ensure that the program does not run afoul of recruiting rules in the future, and severs contact with a placement organization at the center of the controversy, African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education, or AHOPE.

Board President Dan Klett was blunt about the IHSA's view of AHOPE.

When asked what he would say to any other school who might use AHOPE to find basketball players, Klett said, "Don't. We don't believe they are a quality organization."

Klett said AHOPE used the students as pawns, and said Mooseheart didn't do enough to make sure they were complying with IHSA rules.

Mooseheart engaged in recruiting the three basketball players and a fourth Sudanese teen who is a talented cross-country runner for athletic purposes, Hickman had said. IHSA bylaws prohibit athletic recruitment.

Mooseheart, a 99-year-old residential and educational institution for children from unstable environments, disputed Hickman's decision and won a temporary reprieve Tuesday in Kane County Court.

Judge David Akemann granted Mooseheart's request to allow the boys to play until the IHSA board of directors reviewed the case.

Attorneys for the "child city" contended it told the organization placing the boys that Mooseheart would accept Sudanese children regardless of their athletic prowess.

The attorneys also noted that Mooseheart had no contact with the boys until they arrived on its bucolic, 1,000-acre campus in Batavia in May 2011, then waited a full year — at the IHSA's direction — before allowing the teens to compete.

But IHSA attorney David J. Bressler noted that the placement organization specifies that it works with athletes exclusively and that Mooseheart basketball coach Ron Ahrens deliberately called the organization, African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education, seeking basketball players.

The IHSA board considered Mooseheart's case in a meeting that started about 1 p.m Monday at the organization's Bloomington office.

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