Late Hinckley run dooms Mooseheart
In fundamental respects, it had all the earmarks of a conventional weeknight boys basketball game.
But there was far more at stake when Mooseheart traveled to Hinckley Wednesday night.
From the potential patrons turned away in droves at the gate long before the varsity game started to the inordinate number of media credentials requested for the contest, the nonconference game elicited interest far more commensurate than most early December encounters.
Hinckley-Big Rock, completing a series of unanswered runs by both teams, scored the final 14 points of the game to win 58-51.
The game capped a week-long saga for Mooseheart that began when the IHSA ruled three foreign-born players, Mangisto Deng, Makur Puou and Akim Nyang — all natives of war-ravaged Sudan — ineligible.
But the Ramblers petitioned Kane County judicial authorities to issue a restraining order in favor the players' continued eligibility.
County jurist David Akemann ruled in favor of the players Tuesday, granting them continued playing rights until a meeting Monday in Bloomington.
The circumstances of the schools' game was further complicated by Hinckley-Big Rock administrators, spearheaded by athletic director and head coach Bill Sambrookes filing an official complaint with the state governing body for athletics.
"I don't have any issues with the kids," Sambrookes said. "I don't have any interest in making anyone ineligible."
But the immediate concerns seemed once again to frame the seemingly intractable — and at times invidious — climate that has come to symbolize the unbridgeable gulf between public and parochial schools.
"We draw our kids from two communities, Big Rock and Hinckley," Sambrookes said. "We lose a percentage of our kids to the Aurora Catholic schools. My issue with the IHSA was, Mooseheart is able to bring in kids from a foreign country? How is that a level playing field? I will give the IHSA credit. They are consistent. They always say, 'We don't discuss other schools with other schools.'"
The three Mooseheart players all sat out the entire school year last season in accordance with IHSA transfer policies.
But the state body ruled the players' placement at the school violated anti-recruiting bylaws.
The Royals' come-from-behind win overshadowed an otherwise brilliant performance from Puou, who had game highs of 25 points and 19 points.
"I don't understand (the sources of resentment between public and private schools)," Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. "We are family here. We live together 24 hours a day. We are trying to raise kids of need."
The simmering firestorm engendered a deep sense of empathy for the Mooseheart players.
"I thought it was (garbage) that they weren't going to let them play," said Somonauk junior Abbie Alverez, one of several fans from surrounding communities in attendance. "I came to support them. They deserve to be able to play."
The three Mooseheart players discussed game-only questions following the loss.
"We kept losing their 3-point shooters," Ahrens said after H-BR guard Jared Madden pumped in 14 of his team-high 23 points to turn the game around. "It was just some defensive breakdowns. (The hoopla) didn't bother us. We came here to play basketball."
Deng added 13 points for the Ramblers.
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