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Investigation during playoffs raises discrimination questions

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

A boys soccer team in Minnesota preparing for the state championship game finds itself under fire after questions about the age of its foreign-born star striker emerged. Yet, the school is now fighting back, claiming that the investigation into that player may be fueled by prejudice because of an obvious reason: The player's age was already investigated in 2010.

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Prairie Seeds Academy soccer star Carlos Boquin

Prairie Seeds Academy soccer star Carlos Boquin

As reported by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Brooklyn Park (Minn.) Prairie Seeds Academy finds itself facing questions about its postseason eligibility because of sophomore star Carlos Boquin, a major part of Prairie Seed's striking force who originally hails from El Salvador. The Star-Tribune reported that the Minnesota State High School League forced Boquin to sit out all tournament games until it could confirm his official age, a process which has required the player to have his birth certificate rushed in from his El Salvador and be officially translated into English.

That was accomplished on Monday, and Prairie Seeds Academy principal Choua Lee Yang said that the school planned to formally submit Boquin's translated birth certificate on Tuesday, in time to re-qualify Boquin before the Class 1A tournament championship match on Thursday, barring any other significant hiccups.

Prairie Seeds will be defending its 2010 Class 1A tournament title, a thrilling game in which Boquin and his teammates topped Mankato (Minn.) East, 3-2, with an overtime game-winning goal.

Yet, at the same time, Yang raised the possibility that Prairie Seeds and Boquin were being unfairly singled out because the striker also had his age investigated just a year earlier. At that time, the school sent a copy of Boquin's birth certificate, which was deemed suitable proof that he was of high school age (while the Salvadorian is a 17-year-old sophomore, that age is perfectly within Minnesota regulations, which say that an athlete can compete so long as they will not be older than 20 in their 11th or 12th semester of high school).

A year later, the same governing body has waited until the midst of the state tournament -- the Salvadorian star already had to sit out one tournament game during the investigation -- to demand Boquin's official certificate itself.

"Everything is going to plan," Yang told the Star-Tribune. "We talked to our attorney and we will get [the MSHSL] what they need. I just hope they don't find something else they need and we run out of time.

"He was born in 1994. I don't know what month, but he's 17."

The issue of discrimination is a touchy one with Prairie Seeds, which fields a number of students of African descent. The school's soccer program itself was born of coach Youssef Darbaki's desire to provide a platform for more of the school's immigrant students to be seen by college scouts, who could then help them land college scholarships.

That goal of scholarships, combined with the natural talent of the team's diverse roster and Darbaki's background as a player for the Moroccan national team and coaching at an American college, have created a perfect storm with a tiny private school rapidly rising through the ranks of Minnesota prep soccer, as documented by CBS Minnesota and other outlets.

Now, the concern is that potential jealousy or paranoia from other programs is conspiring to keep the team from its ultimate goal: a state championship for a soccer program that sees itself as much as a family as a representative of its school.

"A lot of us grow up in Africa so we came here together," Prairie Seeds Academy Captain Adama Keita told CBS Minnesota. "We all play soccer, we all go to the same school, a lot of us play for the same club."

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