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Mooseheart's Makur Puou dunks the ball during the Red Ramblers game against Westminster Christian on Tuesday, December 04, 2012. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
The Westminster Christian cheerleaders were all smiles on Tuesday night as they posed for pictures with the three Sudanese players from Mooseheart after the Ramblers won 53-21.
The smiles weren’t as wide as those of Mangisto Deng, Makur Puou and Akim Nyang though. The three Ramblers were ruled ineligible by the Illinois High School Association Monday, but had the ruling reversed Tuesday by a Kane County judge.
Puou scored 16 points to lead Mooseheart. Deng added 11 points while the 7-foot-1 Nyang was a defensive force and added a field goal.
“Oh, it was a very, very good feeling to come back and play today,” Puou said. “That was what I wanted to do.”
The players left quite the impression on the visiting cheerleaders.
“It was my Mom’s idea to take some pictures,” Westminster Christian cheerleader Skylar Sunde said. “Those guys are so good with their slam dunks. I feel so small standing next to them and their hands are so huge.”
The 6-10 Puou proved especially huge as a difference-maker as he drew the biggest eruptions from the crowd with his three slam dunks, including a ferocious one-handed jam with 3:35 left in the third quarter that gave the Ramblers a 40-10 lead.
“We went and played very hard as a team,” Puou said. “We had fun.”
Mooseheart (3-2) wasted little time blowing the game open, scoring the first 14 points and taking a 21-3 lead after one quarter. The Warriors only attempted four shots in the opening quarter and committed 16 turnovers in the first half overall as Mooseheart took a 31-5 lead.
“I think when you get close to maybe not being able to play something you love, man alive, I think they really appreciate the fact of being out on the floor,” Mooseheart coach Ron Ahrens said. “I’m really proud of how the guys handled it tonight. Not much else I can say on that. I was extremely pleased and happy they were able to play.”
It was a satisfying conclusion — at least for one night — for Mooseheart, which didn’t learn that Deng, Nyang and Puou were eligible until about three hours before tip-off.
“We are like family out there and I had some guys who were hurting more than the Sudanese boys,” Ahrens said. “Everyone understands what we do here at Mooseheart. Our kids have lived here at Mooseheart. I have kids who have been here since second grade. They love the fraternity and love the Moose. People are saying ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ and it kind of gets at us a bit.”
Westminster Christian coach Bruce Firchau doesn’t think the Ramblers are doing the right thing. He had plenty of complaints to direct at Mooseheart.
“Where is the fairness in the whole situation that existed tonight,” he questioned. “I bet there was over 200 other 1A schools in the state that are saying the same thing.”
Will Woodhouse scored more than half the Warriors points, draining two three-pointers and finishing with 11 points and seven rebounds.
The wild ride will continue for the Ramblers Wednesday as they travel to Hinckley-Big Rock, which filed the complaint that has led to the back-and-forth eligibility rulings.
“We got a goal in mind and it’s to win games and it doesn’t matter who we play,” Ahrens said. “We’re going to play with class and that’s all there is to it.”
And they’ll play with play with Deng, Nyang and Puou as the IHSA will not have a full board hearing until Monday.