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Kevin Gbadebo, left, laughs with Mangisto Deng, center, and Makur Puou, right, before their game at home on Tuesday, December 04, 2012. The IHSA ruled that three of Mooseheart's Sudanese players, including Deng, and Puou, could play in the game. | Brian

A Kane County judge has ruled that three Mooseheart basketball players from the Sudan will be able to compete for the high school, at least temporarily.

Tuesday afternoon, Kane County Judge Dave Akemann ruled that the Illinois High School Association cannot make the three players ineligible prior to a hearing with the state’s governing athletic body set for next Monday.

Mangisto Deng, Akim Nyang and Makur Puou all came to Mooseheart from Sudan through an international organization that places African children in American school and home settings. They have played on the Mooseheart team for its first four games so far this season.

The IHSA declared the players ineligible, saying Mooseheart recruited them, and has indicated Mooseheart acted incorrectly in doing so and could face IHSA sanctions.

On Tuesday, officials from Hinckley-Big Rock sent a release clarifying their involvement in bringing the Mooseheart players to the IHSA’s attention. Media outlets had reported that Hinckley-Big Rock had filed a complaint against Mooseheart.

The statement from the school district said in February 2012, Hinckley-Big Rock athletic director Bill Sambrookes was informed at a conference meeting that some Mooseheart players were part of the A-HOPE program. Sambrookes was unfamiliar with the program and several other coaches and athletic directors had questions about A-HOPE student eligibility. When Sambrookes contacted the IHSA for more information, he was told the IHSA was already aware of the situation and investigating.

“It was never the intent of the Hinckley-Big Rock School District to attack the student athletes or Mooseheart,” the statement said. “Our only intent was in gathering information about the A-HOPE program and the basis for participation in IHSA sanctioned events and activities.”

According to its website, the A-HOPE Foundation is a non-profit organization that helps student athletes obtain a student visa, transportation to the United States as well as “making sure they are acclimated to their new environment and providing them with an opportunity to receive an outstanding education.” A-HOPE stands for African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education. Several A-HOPE alumni are playing at Division I colleges.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether the three Mooseheart athletes came to the school through the A-HOPE program.

In a press release posted on its website, Mooseheart says four boys were recommend by a referral agency and admitted in May of 2011. The boys said they were interested in joining the cross country and basketball teams. In 2011, the school contacted the IHSA about the boys’ eligibility.

“The IHSA deliberated and notified Mooseheart of the 365-day transfer sit-out rule to comply with IHSA regulations,” the Mooseheart statement says. “After this time, the IHSA released all four young men as eligible to play interscholastic sports during the 2012-13 school year.”

On Nov. 29, the school says it was notified by IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman that the boys’ were permanently ineligible to participate in any sports because they had been recruited to compete in athletics.

“Mooseheart has always abided by the IHSA rules and regulations, and has never been accused of violating IHSA policies,” the school’s statement said. “We have followed the 365-day transfer sit-out rule to comply with the IHSA regulations. We do not understand why the status of their eligibility is in question.

“Our main priority, as it is with all children at Mooseheart, continues to be providing them with a home and accredited education. The young men all desire an education and hope to return to South Sudan to give back to their country,” the Mooseheart statement says.

“All of our students deserve an opportunity to have a well-rounded experience at Mooseheart, and interscholastic sports are part of that experience. We will continue to support these four students, and any others who we feel have been unjustly punished, by the IHSA or other organizations which may impact their lives.”

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