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Bizarre ban of Sudanese athletes for tiny Illinois team is overturned, clearing way for their hoops debut

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

In a move that could only be considered good karma and general common sense, three Sudanese student athletes who were barred from playing at Batavia (Ill.) Mooseheart High have now been cleared, paving the way for them to finally take the court with their teammates.

As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Chicago ABC affiliate WLS and a handful of other Chicagoland outlets, three Sudanese players were banned from all competition because the Illinois High School Association deemed that they had been recruited to attend Mooseheart to compete as part of the school's basketball team.

That, of course, was a purely subjective determination. Hailing from Sudan, the players claimed that they moved to America to finally live in a country where they weren't constantly at risk from war. Added to that are claims that Mooseheart reached out to the agency which placed the teens and offered to accept any displaced Sudanese children whether they were athletes or not.

As it turns out, three of the four students who eventually enrolled at the school in 2012 -- Makur Puou, Mangisto Deng and Akim Nyang -- are all basketball players who stand 6-foot-7 or taller. As a result, Mooseheart foes at similarly small schools who suddenly risked having their teams dwarfed by the Sudanese players petitioned the IHSA to investigate the athletes' eligibility before they could begin play in 2013.

Concerned about maintaining a level playing field, the IHSA ruled the three players ineligible just before the 2013 campaign was to tip off. That led to cries of foul from those connected with the Mooseheart program, who in turn filed suit against the state association to help the Sundanese stars gain reinstatement.

"My goal was to get a good education, to get education so I can be successful and help my country...and help my family," Puou told WLS, denying that he had come to the U.S. for basketball reasons.

On Tuesday, that players' ban was finally overturned, with all three of the Sudanese natives declared eligible to return to action, providing a sense of relief and justice for both the athletes and others in the larger Mooseheart community.

It is possible that the decision by judge David Akemann could still be overturned, particularly if the IHSA goes through a full inquiry and comes to the same conclusion that they had initially. Still, that process itself will take a significant amount of time, and the Sudanese players will be able to keep competing with their Mooseheart teammates until they are found to be ineligible again, if that ever happens at all.

"This school had nothing to do with recruiting any student-athletes," attorney Peter Rush, who defended the Mooseheart players, told WLS. "Its 100-year history is proof in and of itself. That is not its mission, and that is not its function."

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