Press "Enter" to skip to content

SDHSAA Blocks African Basketball Recruiter at Mitchell Christian

Maybe we should put Wayne Carney in charge of the EB-5 visa program.

Mitchell Christian High School finds itself embroiled in a minor visa controversy. A group called A-HOPE (African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education) brought Sudanese exchange student Majok Mangar Majok to Mitchell on an F-1 visa December 1. He enrolled as a sophomore at Mitchell Christian the next day, expecting to suit up right away and play basketball. The South Dakota High School Activities Association told the 6'9" (yes, that detail is relevant) student to go back to his books; under an F-1 visa, he's not eligible to play ball.

SDHSAA executive director Wayne Carney explains to the Mitchell Daily Republic that we have rules on who can play ball and who can't. We let foreign exchange students on J-1 visa play, because those students are on official, government-sponsored exchange programs. F-1 visa holders are here under the aegis of private student exchange programs. We permit F-1 visa holders to play if they come from one of 24 vetted, reputable programs, of which A-HOPE is not one.

A-HOPE, an organization based in basketball-obsessed Indiana, doesn't look for promising math scholars, future engineers, or budding writers. It doesn't pick smart short kids. It searches Africa for young gladiators, tall, strong boys who can entertain us in our arenas.

A-HOPE athletes have faced eligibility questions in other states. The Illinois High School Association ruled that A-HOPE takes advantage of its recruits. An ESPN investigation in 2011 found that A-HOPE spends most of its money on travel and very little on helping to provide an education. That ESPN story included this perhaps relevant finding:

The 12 players A-HOPE identifies as members of its past five classes attended at least 32 U.S. high schools among them. "It seems to be this recruitment tool for the [summer travel teams]," says Chet Marshall, an administrator at Culver (Ind.) Academy, the first of four private schools attended by Perea. "And during the year, by the way, 'We'll find you a private school so you can stay out of trouble and no one else [in the basketball subculture] can find you'" [Mike Fish, "Basketball Ties That Bind,", 2011.05.26].

The SDHSAA establishes eligibility rules to prevent extracurriculars from pre-empting the educational mission of our schools. Here's the SDHSAA's rationale for transfer/residency requirements:

A transfer/residency requirement assists in the prevention of students changing schools in conjunction with the change of athletic season for athletic purposes; impairs recruitment, and reduces the opportunity for undue influence to be exerted by persons seeking to benefit from a student-athletes prowess.

A transfer/residency requirement promotes stability and harmony amongst member schools by maintaining the amateur standing of high school athletics; by not letting individuals other than enrolled students participate, and upholding the principle that a student should attend the high school in the district where the student’s guardian(s) reside.

A transfer/residency requirement also prohibits foreign students, other than students who are participants in an established foreign exchange program accepted for listing by the Council on Standard for International Educational Travel (CSIET), from displacing other students from athletic opportunities [South Dakota High School Activities Association, "Eligibility Rules and Regulations," updated July 2013].

Under normal open enrollment rules, a student who switches schools mid-year has to sit out for nine school weeks before participating in any extra-curricular activities. SDHSAA will waive that rule in cases of hardship. But there appears to be no hardship here. Majok isn't a refugee uprooted from his home unexpectedly by war or other grim circumstances. He is the subject of a program seeking specifically to seed small, out-of-the-way high schools with basketball players:

“If the program was on the list, it would give it some validity,” Carney said. “Then we would know the students are not being placed at schools on their athletic abilities.”

[Mitchell Christian superintendent Joseph] Fox said he thought Majok would leave the school due to being held out of athletics for a full year [Aaron Saunders, "Foreign Exchange Student Ruled Ineligible for MCS Boys," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2013.12.19].

Majok's quick change of venue shows that A-HOPE does not have educational opportunities as its primary mission; SDHSAA is thus right not to play ball with them.


  1. Jerry 2013.12.22

    What a deal! A Christian school no less that would try to cheat? Who would have thunk it? A private religious school scamming? Doesn't that just beat all? In the holiday season as well, amazing. Thankfully we have regulation here in regarding that and most things. Just more proof that we continually need to be regulated or we cheat, lie and kill one another.

  2. owen reitzel 2013.12.22

    Whether its a private Christian school or a public school what is sad here is that basketball was put above education. I believe that Mitchell Christian's motivation was true and they might not have known all the rules.
    You'd think that a student from the Sudan would come to the U.S. looking for an education. If he or she was good enough to play athletics then they could play. The fact that he left shows where his priorities are. Sad.

  3. chris 2013.12.22

    Maybe Thune can get the visa thing straightened out so he can play.

  4. oldguy 2013.12.22

    Thanks CAH as very interesting. I had no idea there was more than one student Visa.

  5. Mike Henriksen 2013.12.22

    Interesting story. One added note. The first paragraph you quoted from SDHSAA is sometimes called the "Mitch Fargen rule". Mitch left Flandreau after football, enrolled at Colman-Egan to play basketball, then attempted to go back to Flandreau to run track. That was in the early days of open enrollment. Yes, the same Mitch that won a seat in the House and was very involved in education issues.

  6. Tara Volesky 2013.12.22

    The Mooseheart ruling was overturned and the student athletes are now eligible to play bb and run cross-country. Mooseheart is sanctioned from playing in the bb state tournament. I commend MCHS for taking in a young boy from a war torn country. If this teen doesn't qualify for Hardship than who does. I think it's great having an opportunity of getting a HS diploma and possibly a college bb scholarship to get a college diploma. What is wrong with that? Remember Sean Stevens from Turkey who played for the Mitchell Kernels. He is now Dr. Sean Stevens who is a Psychologist. That bb scholarship sure came in handy for Sean. He is now helping young kids in Turkey by providing bb camps and creating opportunities to someday have a chance in America just like He did. It's to bad politics are involved in the schools and athletic programs. I believe Majok is a very good student who happens to play bb. Don't penalize him because he may have a gift.

  7. Joan Brown 2013.12.22

    I lived in Mitchell at that time, and he came from a wealthy family to begin with. He lived with relatives in Mitchell, and if I remember right they were some type of doctors.

  8. Tara Volesky 2013.12.22

    Yes, his Uncle and Aunt had to jump through some hoops and it took a few weeks before he was eligible. The SDHSAA was involved, but it got straightened out and he played 2 years and then got a scholarship.

  9. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.12.22

    The Strib just had a big investigation of the high school boys' sports business. It is a big, big business. Millions of dollars are involved. The school transfers and recruitment are only part of this business. There are also independent (?) business men who call themselves "advisors" who function remarkably similarly to professional sports agents.

    They buddy up to a high school boy and his family, selling himself as someone who knows the system and can help the boy and his family navigate through the high school sports system. They urge the boy to play with the right summer teams, attend the right camps, get him in to national all star games, make sure professionally edited video tapes are sent to the right coaches, etc.

    These "advisors" sell the family on moving so that the boy can play for another school. This includes cross-country moves. They get the parents to mortgage their home to pay for private lessons, to buy the best equipment, etc. The "advisor" sells a dream to the entire family. It's a dream of success, wealth, adulation and fame.

    Those sleazy guys have "arrangements" with colleges and universities per recruit head. Yep. Like livestock. And if the boy gets hurt and unable to continue competin?? Aw, tough luck.

    As Jerry noticed, the biggest beneficiaries of these underhanded and unethical, but marginally legal, transactions, are the religious schools, predominantly Roman Catholic. The RCC does have a rich athletic history, with Notre Dame at the top. There is much to be proud of, but not so much lately for any of the wealthy private schools. Taking advantage of little boys in elementary school and up is nothing to be proud of.

    Bigger states like MN are lousy with this type of crap. It's very minimal in girls' sports because the money is not there. (This is just my view, but I mostly watch girls' and women's sports because they are so much cleaner and more honest.)

  10. Tara Volesky 2013.12.23

    Your right Deb, on a smaller scale right here in SD, if you pay, your kid will play. There are numerous summer AAU and youth bb traveling teams. There are even agents that call and will guarantee a sports scholarship for your son or daughter, at a price. I feel the best way to develop your skills is independently and through self discipline and motivation.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.23

    Mitch did that? Fascinating! Thanks for the history, Mike!

  12. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.23

    Tara, it's not about penalizing the boy. It's about preventing A-HOPE from using schools as basketball training camps. A-HOPE may be pulling kids out of hardship, but it isn't doing so for humanitarian reasons. It's not saving girls. It's not saving small, sick kids. It's not saving smart kids. It's plucking a handful of healthy athletes out of the masses. It's jockocratic elitism, and there's too much of that attitude in schools as it is. SDHSAA is doing what it can to check that unhealthy motivation.

  13. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.23

    And thanks for that MN perspective, Deb. That this industry focuses on boys over girls makes it that much less palatable. That it is an industry is all the more reason for SDHSAA to maintain its rules and protect our schools and everyone's children from such exploitation.

  14. Nick Nemec 2013.12.23

    Does A-HOPE do this in the hope of hitting the eventual lottery jackpot of being the agent for some future NBA star? Bring 1000 of the best teenage
    African basketball players to the US and eventually 10 or so will be offered NBA contracts.

  15. Tara Volesky 2013.12.23

    Over all Cory you make excellent points along with the other people who commented. I was just referring to this one isolated case. I am against basketball companies that manufacture children into becoming money making commodities. I feel bad for kids in SD whose parents can't afford to put their child on a SD Elite bb team. Whatever happened to playing together as a team in your local town or area. Team camps are better preparation for HS bb than Elite camps.

  16. Alan Miller 2013.12.24

    I commend the administration, coaches, and families from Mitchell Christian School, that would take a child in their home and school from a war torn country and allow him to get a high school degree in America. What must it take to qualify as a hardship case?
    Yes, he is a good basketball player. Oh by the way It looks to me like there is alot of schuffling around state so kids can play on a better team ETC, I am sure trying to get a better education ha! ha! There has also been many foreign exchange students who have participated in other sports without mention. This kid happens to be 6'9" and can play basketball, what about if he were 5'10", than I suppose we wouldn't hear about it. I happen to have met this young man and education is a huge priority, in fact he is excited to have the opportunity to stay and go to class at MCHS even if he doesnt' get to play.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.24

    So clarify for me, Alan: is Majok staying?

    You are right that we wouldn't hear about this if he were 5'10". He wouldn't be here if he were 5'10". A-HOPE is recruiting athletes, not performing humanitarian service for needy children.

  18. Alan Miller 2013.12.24

    Yes he is staying a MCHS and doing well in his academics as I understand. Do believe that MCHS had a chance to to get a runner from A-Hope who eventually went to high school in Illinois. Majok was going to a school in Indiana but was held up in embassy do to military (war in South Sudan)situation couldn't get out for months, and had no home when he landed in US. The school in Indiana he planned to attend filled their scholarship slots because he got there so late in the year. Mitchell Christian was looking at getting foreign exchange students and had their I-20 approval, graciously took him on a last second notice.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.24

    Good for MCHS! The student can learn and build his university and career opportunities. And if he wants to relax with some basketball, I'm sure he can find some new friends who'd enjoy a pick-up game after class or on the weekend.

  20. Tara Volesky 2013.12.24

    I knew you would come around Cory. Now lets see him use his talents Saturday at the Mike Miller Classic at the Worlds only Corn Palace. Oh and by the way, I commend Alan Miller who is a Right Wing Republican to read Madville Times. Good job Alan. The Libbys are pretty Cool! You and your Conservative friends can pick up some different perspectives and add to the political dialogue.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.12.24

    Come around? I'm not sure my position has changed. To let Majok play in that tournament, SDHSAA would still ahve to waive the rules, I'm not fond of waiving rules that exist for a good reason.

  22. Tara Volesky 2013.12.24

    The SDHSAA should follow the Hardship rule. I do believe this situation is political. If their was a minor technicality on the part of MCHS, than they can correct it and the matter would be settled. It's not a big deal. I am sure the SDHSAA will guide them through the proper procedures to correct the mistake so Majok can play Sat.

Comments are closed.