Majok Mangar Majok, a 6-foot-9 foreign exchange student at Mitchell Christian, has been ruled ineligible to participate in athletics this season by the South Dakota High School Activities Association.

The ruling came Dec. 13 after Mitchell Christian filed a hardship waiver, which was declined by the SDHSAA.

“We understand the state rules, so we are not bugged by the ruling,” Mitchell Christian Superintendent Joseph Fox said. “We feel bad about it but we don’t know if there are any grounds for appeal.”

Majok arrived in Mitchell on Dec. 1, and enrolled at Mitchell Christian the next day, where he was planning to play for the Golden Eagle basketball team. The sophomore student is here on an F-1 visa from Sudan.

SDHSAA Executive Director Wayne Carney said students who are under an F-1 visa in the United States are automatically ineligible to play athletics unless there is a waiver of the transfer rule due to hardship.

He said Mitchell Christian did not know they had to file a waiver for hardship until it was too late.

“This is not common,” Carney said. “Most of the foreign exchange students here are under a J-1 visa. Those kids have one year of athletic eligibility. Most of them are on an exchange visitor program that has been approved by the Council on Standards for International Education Travel.”

The difference between the F-1 and J-1 visas is the duration of the stay.

A J-1 visa allows students to remain in the U.S. for the duration of their study period then return home. J-1 visa holders are part of an official exchange program that is sponsored by the U.S. government or their respective country’s government.

An F-1 visa is issued for someone to pursue an educational objective that is privately funded and not part of an official government exchange program or government sponsorship.

Majok came to Mitchell as part of the A-HOPE program. A-HOPE stands for African Hoop Opportunities Providing an Education.

The foundation is a non-profit organization that was founded in 2004. According to its website, the mission of the organization is to provide deserving student-athletes a seamless process of obtaining a student visa.

A-HOPE is not an CSIET approved program for prospective F-1 inbound students. The CSIET lists 24 programs, which have provisional or full status as reputable F-1 transfer programs.

To date, A-HOPE has sent more than 20 African students to the U.S. to attend school and play basketball.

“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.”

Fox said he thought Majok would leave the school due to being held out of athletics for a full year.