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Controversy draws capacity crowd for Hinckley-Big Rock game

Disappointed fans gather inside front doors Hinckley Big-Rock High School after being told thgym is capacity for game between Hinckley

Disappointed fans gather inside the front doors of Hinckley Big-Rock High School after being told that the gym is at capacity for the game between Hinckley Big-Rock and Mooseheart on Wednesday, December 5, 2012. Fans were being turned away nearly an hour before tipoff. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 7, 2013 7:14AM

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 this.

An hour before the game’s scheduled start, the gym was at maximum capacity of 1,500. Crowds of fans, media members and those with their eyes on the controversy surrounding several Mooseheart players filled the school’s lobby as ticket takers apologetically turned them away.

“Sorry, we’re at capacity. There’s no room left,” Brickman told fans, who grumbled and scowled at the circumstance. “Believe me, I wish we could accommodate everyone.”

But, there was simply no way. Fox News was turned away. College recruiters were also shown the door.

As the crowd grew — and grew angry — local law enforcement stepped in to make sure disgruntled spectators stayed in line. For some, it was hard for some to stay mum.

“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.”

Even as half-time passed, fans mingled in the wings, waiting to gain entrance they were told they likely wouldn’t receive.

Why? Whitmer said it was important for the Mooseheart community to be able to stand by its team during this time. 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,” a staff member, who asked she not be named, said angrily.

In the wake of controversy that almost left them on the sidelines, three Mooseheart basketball players hit the court Wednesday at Hinckley-Big Rock where the controversy surrounding them began. Earlier this year, it was alleged that 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 press release that it was never the intent of the district to attack the three players, or the Mooseheart community.

Juniors Mangisto Deng, Akim Nyang, and Makur Puouall all came to Mooseheart from Sudan in May 2011 through a small organization, A-Hope, that places African children in American school and home settings.

When the boys 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 Feb. 2012, when Hinckley-Big Rock’s coach and athletic director contacted the IHSA about the A-Hope organization’s participation in IHSA sanctioned activities.

On Tuesday, a Kane County judge ruled that the IHSA cannot make the three South Sudanese players ineligible before a hearing with the state’s governing athletic body is completed next Monday.

So, on Wednesday, all three students got to play—and there was plenty of interest from those who were eager to watch that happen. Scouts, neighboring community basketball teams, middle school students, families and media members turned up with a vested interest in the match-up between the Hinckley-Big Rock and Mooseheart players.

“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.”

Despite the controversy, Brickman said he was excited to see so many people with interest in the local teams.

“The neighboring communities have shown up to enjoy the game,” he said. “We appreciate people keeping the focus on the basketball game…people have been extremely nice and extremely patient.”

And while there was plenty of talk about basketball, there was also plenty of talk about the attention this particular match-up had attracted.

“The IHSA and Hinckley itself should see heads roll,” Whitmer said. “Mooseheart is the Child City. For them to kick these kids while they’re down is ridiculous.”

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

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