Mooseheart team overcomes hardship to make it to IHSA State tournament

By WEEK Reporter

March 13, 2014 Updated Mar 14, 2014 at 11:54 AM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- There is a unique high school basketball team making their first-ever appearance in the March Madness tournament in Peoria. This team has come a long way to get here and not just geographically.

The Mooseheart Ramblers are a small team representing Mooseheart, IL at the IHSA State Basketball Tournament for class 1A.

"It's a great feeling for me, for my family in Sudan, for my team for my community," said senior and starting forward Makur Puou.

"Our kids come from backgrounds that are at a disadvantage, and what we offer is an advantage," said Mooseheart coach Ron Ahren.

Mooseheart, Illinois is 1000 acre town dedicated to raising kids from broken or missing families. They have one goal.

"To help raise good young adults leaders. Help them to do things they'd probably never be able to do. For one, help them get an education," said Ahren.

That's why Makur Puou is here. He left his hometown Sudan in Africa for an education at Mooseheart.

"I grew up in war. It was hard at that time but everything came normal and everyone was focusing on having a better life and forgetting about what they've seen," said Puou.

In the three years he's been in the US, he's come a long way.

"When I got here, I didn't know how to speak English, but they tried their best and found the best teachers," said Puou.

These boys are not alone. They literally have millions of fans. Moose Lodges world-wide provide the funds that support the whole town. These boys have a Moose Lodge in Pekin, Ill. It's the second largest lodge in the state. More than 2,000 members pay dues to support the town.

"They mean so much to us, and they are giving back," said Pekin Moose Lodge governor Vic McDonald. He's been a member for more than two decades.

And Makur Puou is the Sunshine Child there. The woman of the lodge send him extra support and sponsorship.

"They take care of my health and anything I need. I'm so grateful," said Puou.

Puou is paying them all back with his attitude.

"He wants to enter to learn and he wants to leave to serve," said Ahren. "At some point he's going back to his country to make it better."

"That's my goal," said Puou. "That's what I came here to do. I want to win in all."--a state championship, an education and a better life.