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High school deems track star ineligible to compete because his parents live overseas

Senior Josh Onwunili is fighting to appeal the decision made by the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Josh Onwunili
Posted at 11:40 AM, May 15, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-15 13:40:31-04

There’s controversy in Campbellsport, Wisconsin, over a high school track athlete’s eligibility. The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association ruled high school senior Josh Onwunili is not allowed to compete in varsity events because his parents currently live 5,000 miles away in Ghana, Africa.

Onwunili is the definition of a dominant athlete.

"Now with running the crazy times that I have, I'm shocking myself,” he said.

Campbellsport High School Head Track Coach Derek Toshner says Onwunili recorded one of the fastest 100-meter sprints in state history. It happened in a meet that will likely be his last after a devastating development for Onwunili last week.

"It's frustrating,” Toshner said. "It's really not in the spirit of what the rule was put in place to do."

Toshner says the WIAA ruled Onwunili is ineligible to compete in the upcoming regional and state championship events because of where his parents live.

Onwunili went to Campbellsport High School as a freshman, but for the past two years, he moved to Africa with his parents who went there to be missionaries. This school year, Onwunili came back to Campbellsport without his parents to prepare for college both academically and athletically while his parents remained in Ghana.

The WIAA handbook states, "A full-time student is eligible for varsity interscholastic competition only at the school within whose attendance boundaries his/her parents reside."

Scripps News Milwaukee reached out to the WIAA about its decision. A spokesperson told us, “The WIAA's regulations regarding transfers have been applied correctly."

Onwunili is now appealing the ruling.

"Obviously there's a rule in place to prevent the stacking of teams which I understand, but we just feel like that's not the case here,” Toshner said.

Onwunili said his parents kept their home in Campbellsport and his mother is moving back this week. But since his dad has to stay in Ghana, his coach says Onwunili remains ineligible because the WIAA requires both parents to live in the area for the athlete to compete for a full season.

“It's disappointing,” Onwunili said. “He legally can't come into the country and they just don't really believe — even with the documentation showing that — they don't believe he [can't].”

Onwunili hopes the WIAA reconsiders its stance by Friday so he has the chance to shine on the biggest stage in high school.

"It means kind of everything right now,” he said.

His goal is to catch the attention of top college programs before it’s too late.

This story was originally published by Ben Jordan at Scripps News Milwaukee.