Updated 12/04/12 – 9:25 p.m.
GENEVA, Ill. (CBS) — The Mooseheart Ramblers hit the basketball court with extra bounce in their steps Tuesday night, after a judge ruled three Sudanese players previously declared ineligible by the Illinois High School Association could play until there’s a full hearing on their eligibility.
The three young men, and a fourth teen from Sudan, transferred to Mooseheart — a boarding school for troubled youth in Batavia — last year.
WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports the IHSA ruled the four boys were ineligible to play high school sports last week, after opposing teams argued the Sudanese boys were recruited specifically for their athletic prowess, which would be a violation of IHSA rules.
The three teens on the basketball team – all 6’7” or taller – were brought over from the Sudan last year, along with a fourth boy, who joined the cross-country team. Initially, the school was told Akim Nyang, Makur Puou, Mangisto Deng, and Wal Khat would fulfill IHSA transfer requirements by sitting out last season.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports
Nyang, Puou, and Deng were allowed to play the first four games this year on the basketball team, but then the IHSA ruled them ineligible.
CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports the school sought a restraining order to block the IHSA ruling, and Judge David Akemann ruled Tuesday afternoon the three boys may continue playing until a full board hearing, on Dec. 10.
IHSA attorneys argued Mooseheart recruited the players for their basketball effectiveness, but Mooseheart Executive Director Scott Hart said they’re not that good at basketball, despite their size.
“These boys certainly are tall, but that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily skilled. Mooseheart’s record is 2-2,” he said. “They may be good basketball players. I would definitely not consider them to be great basketball players. They have a long ways to go.”
Mooseheart officials said none of the three came to the school with basketball training. To them, the slam dunk was a shot at a college education.
“I’m very happy to be in the United States, and be at Mooseheart, so I can get a good education, and go back to help my family,” Puou said.
CBS 2’s Pamela Jones reports Kat ran cross-country this year, and placed 24th in the state, only to have eligibility questions strip him of his medal.
“He’s telling me ‘I’m sorry.’ I said. ‘Wal, you did nothing wrong.’ ‘Then why do I have to give up my medals?’” Hart said.
Mooseheart said, after visiting with former NBA player Manute Bol – who is also from Sudan, and a member of the Loyal Order of Moose – the school began to focus on helping children from his homeland.
The school said an organization A Place Called A Hope contacted them about admitting the four Sudanese students.
Mooseheart has said it told the IHSA the teens would have been enrolled at the school regardless of whether they are athletes.
The Mooseheart basketball team was scheduled to play Westminster Christian on Tuesday night, and against Hinckley-Big Rock on Wednesday night.
Hinckley-Big Rock filed a complaint with the IHSA in March, leading to the investigation of the boys’ eleigibility.
The IHSA hearing on the boys’ eligibility will be held on Monday in Bloomington.