URBANA — A German exchange student who hoped to play basketball and tennis at Urbana High School  won’t be able to do so.
The Illinois State High School Association found Niklas Bals ineligible to play sports, at a hearing before its board Monday in Bloomington.
Bals — who’s from Hanover, Germany, and pays tuition at Urbana High School — said he’s sad and disappointed by the ruling.
The 16-year-old has been practicing with the basketball team all season and has sat on the bench for the team’s games.
Urbana resident Lenny De Forge is hosting Bals, independent of an exchange program. De Forge said it’s a decision that leaves them devastated, “big time.”
“It’s just not good,” De Forge said.
The IHSA allows foreign exchange students who are part of approved programs to play sports.
But because Bals is here independently, the IHSA considers him a transfer student, said Kurt Gibson, the IHSA’s associate executive director.
While De Forge became Bals’ legal guardian in hopes of making him eligible, such a change in guardianship would have to be caused by circumstances beyond the student’s, parents’ and school’s control.
“You just can’t do it, in other words, to find your way to athletic eligibility in our state,” Gibson said.
“We have a rule, an eligibility rule, for foreign exchange students who are in an approved program, but he’s not (eligible) that because he’s not in one of those programs,” Gibson said. “In our eyes, he’s not considered a foreign exchange student, he’s just a transfer student.”
Bals said he’s incredibly disappointed but will explore other hobbies, including artistic pursuits.
He said photography is a hobby of his, and he’s interested in getting involved in theater.
“I definitely will spend (my time) well, and wisely,” Bals said.