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Controversy over Mooseheart’s Sudanese hoops players draws overflow crowd

Fans gather inside front entrance Hinckley Big-Rock High School despite sign informing them thgym is capacity for game against Mooseheart

Fans gather inside the front entrance to Hinckley Big-Rock High School despite a sign informing them that the gym is at capacity for the game against Mooseheart on Wednesday, December 5, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 7, 2013 1:33PM

Hinckley Big-Rock High School Principal Jay Brickman was expecting a crowd for Wednesday evening’s basketball game against Mooseheart, but he wasn’t expecting to turn away a crowd.

An hour before the game started, the gym was at its maximum capacity of 1,500. Fans, media members and others following the controversy over three Mooseheart players from Sudan were turned away.

On Tuesday, Kane County Judge Dave Akemann ruled that the three students — Mangisto Deng, Akim Nyang and Makur Puou — could play and that Illinois High School Association could not make them ineligible before a hearing with the state’s governing athletic body set for next Monday.

The students all came to Mooseheart from Sudan through a small organization called A-HOPE that places African children in American school and home settings.

As the crowd of people who were turned away grew — and grew angry — local law enforcement stepped in to make sure disgruntled spectators stayed in line.

“It’s too bad we came here and weren’t able to support our players,” said Mooseheart fan Dennis Whitmer, whose wife is on staff at the school. “We’re disappointed.”

Whitmer said it was important for the Mooseheart community to stand by the team. Many staff members, who were told not to comment on the situation, were equally as dedicated.

“I teach at Mooseheart and I’d like to be here for my kids during this hardship,” said an angry staff member, who requested anonymity.

Earlier this year, Hinckley Big-Rock filed a complaint with the Illinois High School Association alleging that three Mooseheart Juniors had been recruited by the school to play. The district said in a news release that it never intended to attack the three players or the Mooseheart community.

When Deng, Nyang and Puouall came to the United States, it took a year before they were deemed eligible by the IHSA to participate in athletics, and even then, there was some doubt. In its statement, Hinckley Big-Rock said the controversy dates back to February 2012, when the team’s coach and athletic director contacted the IHSA about the A-Hope organization’s participation in IHSA-sanctioned activities.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Whitmer said. “These kids came over here for an education. So, they are tall. When you’re tall, what do you play? Basketball. That’s all there is to it. . . . It has nothing to do with scouting out NBA players.”

“Mooseheart is the Child City,” Whitmer said. “For them to kick these kids while they’re down is ridiculous.

“Look at this,” he said, eyeing the crowd in the high school’s hallway. “All because three people wanted to play basketball.”

Mooseheart ended up losing the game 58-51.

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