BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois High School Association ruled Monday that four Sudanese students can play sports, but placed their suburban Chicago high school on probation and said the foundation that brought the athletes to the U.S. took advantage of them.
The three basketball players and one cross-country runner, all juniors at Mooseheart High School in Batavia, had worried about the IHSA's final decision and what it would mean for their dreams of obtaining college scholarships, earning degrees and returning home to help rebuild their war-torn country.
The IHSA, which governs the state's interscholastic sports, got involved after the coach of a rival high school's basketball team raised questions about A-HOPE, an Indiana-based foundation that paid for the four to come to the United States.
On Monday, the IHSA said the athletes are safe, but Mooseheart is ineligible to participate in the 2013 end-of-year state basketball series until it completes IHSA directives, which include reviewing and refining admissions processes to make sure those comply with IHSA rules.
IHSA officials said the school should be able to complete the tasks with enough time to participate in the series, which start in late February.
The IHSA also said A-HOPE took advantage of the students, and that any Illinois school that accepts referrals from A-HOPE or similar organizations, will be "presumptively ineligible."
Messages left through A-HOPE's website weren't immediately returned Monday.
The decision hinged on the board's interviews with the students, IHSA board president Dan Klett said in a conference call with reporters.
"It was clear the students were not aware of everything that was going on," but were "looking for an opportunity to get to the United States, to get and education," and to go back and help their country, Klett said. "Anybody who wants to give them a chance, they're going to jump at it."
A-HOPE, on the other hand, was "more concerned about basketball," Klett said. The Sudanese athletes, with A-HOPE's help, came to the U.S. on student visas.
"They were going after those with height and athletic ability," Klett said. "We do not want to encourage that." Continued...