Earlier this year, 19-year-old Congolese refugee Daniel Sumuni told The Enquirer he was hopeful. He was ineligible to play soccer, but he was petitioning the Ohio High School Athletic Association for a waiver, and he was believing for the best.
“When you try to do something, you must be hopeful,” Daniel said at the time. “I need one more year to play.”
On Monday, the OHSAA approved a rule change that grants Daniel his wish. The updated rule allows Ohio students to play until they turn 20, provided they haven’t had more than eight semesters of high school.
Previously, if a player turned 19 before Aug. 1 of a particular year, he was ineligible that entire year. The changes were posted Monday to OHSAA’s website.
Withrow High School soccer coach Tyler Barrott, who initiated Daniel’s appeal, said he was thrilled with the decision, commending the OHSAA board, staff and member schools for putting children first.
To Barrott, the rule change reinforces the idea that high school sports are an invaluable educational tool, inspiring students who might otherwise be lost.
“It has assured these students, these young men, that they are not outsiders, but just as much a part of the American fabric as you and I,” Barrott wrote in an email to The Enquirer.
Daniel is one of seven children. He was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but spent most of his life in a Tanzanian refugee camp. His family was awarded asylum in the U.S. in 2013, and Daniel, who spoke no English, enrolled at Withrow and joined the soccer team.
When he graduates, Daniel wants to go to college to become either a businessman or a lawyer. He wants to help people, he said, because “when someone has a problem, I feel like it’s my problem.”
Barrott has been head coach at Withrow for two years. Daniel’s was not the first eligibility appeal he filed, because he knows the tremendous impact soccer has on refugee students, he said. It transcends language barriers, forges friendships between students from differing cultures and religions and pushes teammates to work hard on the field and in the classroom.
“On behalf of the Withrow soccer program, I would like to thank all those around the Tri-State and the nation who supported Daniel, the incredibly dedicated staff of The Enquirer, and all those who have supported our program over the past year,” Barrott wrote.
He likes to quote Daniel, who constantly reminds his teammates: “If you work hard, you just know that good things will happen.”