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Wellington student who fought state to play soccer finds victory

A student who nearly missed playing soccer on his varsity high school team because of an dispute over his immigration status, is celebrating for the second time this school year. Not only did the door open in December for him to play, but this week his team, American Heritage of Delray, won the Class 2A state title.

Milan Mistry, an English immigrant who’s lived in Wellington for more than a decade, spent a year trying to convince the state that he was eligible to play. A Palm Beach Post inquiry appeared to move the agency to action.

The team defeated the Bolles school of Jacksonville 5-0 in a championship match Thursday in Deland.

Our original story:

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

After battling for more than a year to get the state’s high school athletic association to recognize his right to play varsity soccer, 17-year-old English immigrant Milan Mistry will finally take the field this week.

Milan was benched in his junior year at American Heritage high school when the Florida High School Athletic Association questioned the paperwork that proved he was in the country legally – an issue that hadn’t come up before in the 10 years his family has lived in Wellington.

This week, after an inquiry from The Palm Beach Post, the association announced it had received the missing piece of the puzzle and that Milan is now clear to play.

The document that cleared the way was one the family has had since May, and one that no one had previously asked the family to produce, said Milan’s father Anil Mistry.

Now the family and the school are celebrating the news, which comes in time for Milan to play the remaining three months in the season.

Only hours before the announcement, American Heritage’s headmaster had lamented the predicament.

“We feel helpless,” said Robert Stone. “It was appealed like three times and the FHSAA refuses to let him play varsity sports.”

The family had been in the United States under Milan’s mother’s status, which originally was as a student. When she got a job offer in 2016, her legal status, and thus her family’s, didn’t change; it just fell instead under a worker permit, which puts the family on track to each get green cards, according to their attorney.

But the switch is what snagged Milan’s soccer ambitions, his father said. That’s when FHSAA raised a flag and said Milan could play, but only at the junior varsity level – a restriction imposed on immigrants here on a tourist visa or waiver program, according to an FHSAA eligibility form.

A multitude of other documents supporting Milan’s status including his Social Security card, state ID card and letter from the family’s attorney were sent to FHSAA, to no avail.

“Participation in athletics is a privilege, not a right,” said Michael Colby, the FHSAA’s director of eligibility. “We can’t have students who are here as tourists or those who just applied for permanent residency participating. They can impact the state series.”

The documents presented “allows him to stay in the country but does not give him privileges,” Colby said. Nowhere in the required forms, however, does FHSAA specifically demand the piece of paper that finally cleared Milan’s path to the soccer field.

The FHSAA recently resolved another high-profile case involving a Venezuelan swimmer. The association at first denied Hector Rodriguez Jr. his bid to swim for Winter Park High’s varsity team. The family is in the country legally, but their petition for asylum was still pending.

“What they’re doing doesn’t make any sense,” their attorney Rusten Hurd told The Orlando Sentinel. “And I think it’s because they don’t understand how immigration works.”

Six days after the story appeared, Rodriguez was cleared to swim by the FHSAA.

Milan Mistry has played soccer since he was 4 years old. He was on the Bak Middle School of the Arts team before arriving at American Heritage in suburban Delray Beach on an academic scholarship. He picked Heritage for its soccer prowess.

“They’re really good,” Milan said.

After working his way through the junior varsity level, he aimed for varsity not just for the sporting challenge but because it would build a record for his college applications. He’s applied to several including Vanderbilt, Brown and Johns Hopkins universities.

Milan trained for two months heading into this season, anticipating that the new school year and another round of paperwork for the FHSAA would clear things up. But two days before the first match, the coach gave him the bad news. “He said, ‘You’re not cleared to play.’ The way he described it, it didn’t sound like that big of a deal. ‘Just talk to your dad.’ “

Anil Mistry, who runs a hotel business in Miami, said he provided all the paperwork he typically had before. He also had lawyers familiar with his immigration status write a “To whom it may concern” letter, explaining the family are “all lawfully present in the United States while they wait for their Green Cards to be issued” — something the attorney said was expected in the next three to six months.

In recent weeks, Mistry’s frustration grew. The family hired an attorney and contacted The Palm Beach Post, which made inquiries last week to FHSAA. “I just want my son to play,” Anil Mistry said.

Within 24 hours of The Post contacting the FHSAA, wheels began to turn.

American Heritage’s sports staff called the Mistry family, asking for Milan’s so-called biometrics documents, proof that he has applied in person for a green card. The Mistry family supplied the requested document and that afternoon, FHSAA granted Milan permission to play.

“The school submitted a required form with the official stamp that was needed on it. This form had been missing until now. This should solve any issues,” FHSAA spokesman Kyle Niblett said in an email last week.

By that afternoon, Milan was fist pumping with joy and looking forward to the team’s next match.

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