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Campbellsport track star will be able to compete in meet after WIAA reversal

The news comes after a week of intense pressure on the WIAA from both the public and Wisconsin legislators to reverse their decision to not allow Onwunili to compete.
Posted at 2:42 PM, May 17, 2024

CAMPBELLSPORT, Wisconsin — Campbellsport track star Josh Onwunili will be able to race in Monday's regional meet, State Rep. Jerry O’Connor told TMJ4 Friday.

"I’m really excited. This is really awesome," Onwunili said.

 Josh Onwunili
Josh Onwunili.

The news comes after a week of intense pressure on the WIAA from both the public and Wisconsin legislators to reverse their decision to not allow Onwunili to compete due to his parents currently residing in Africa as missionaries.

The reversal comes as rosters for Monday’s regional meet had to be submitted by Friday morning.

In an emailed statement sent on Friday, Todd Clark, Director of Communications for WIAA, confirmed Onwunili's waiver after receiving documentation on his father's Visa status, saying that “cooperative efforts, which produced additional documentation presented to the executive staff, were the impetus to affording unrestricted eligibility for the 2024 WIAA Tournament Series.”

Representative Jerry O’Connor, Fond du Lac, also confirmed the news on Friday in an emailed statement. He also criticized the amount of time it took to get everything in place for Onwunili.

“This decision should never have taken this long,” O’Connor said. “And this family [should not have been] put through this grueling process."

Onwunili said he wouldn't have made it over this major holder without his coach, Derek Toshner.

“He hasn’t been in my corner, he is the corner," Onwunili explained.

Toshner faught back tears and said, "I’m just a coach ya know, like I just wanna see the kid run. I think any good coach would have done it right. Yeah I just care about my athletes. I care about my students. I wanna see him run.”

The WIAA ruled last week that Josh Onwunili is ineligible to participate in varsity events because his parents live in Africa.

U.S. Congressman Glenn Grothman told TMJ4 News that he was assisting at the federal level to provide documentation that proves Josh’s dad can’t leave Africa due to issues with his Visa.

“As long as the WIAA gets information regarding Josh’s dad’s Visa, they’ll let him run on Monday,” said Campbellsport’s head track coach Derek Toshner.

Josh is one of the fastest sprinters in the state. He 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.

He came back to Campbellsport for his senior year only to learn he couldn’t compete because his parents didn’t return with him.

His mom came back last night, but he says his dad can’t do the same.

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."

“He’s a missionary,” he said. “So we planted a church over there in 2014 and since then he’s been the lead pastor over there.”

That’s where Congressman Grothman comes in. The lawmaker says he heard about Josh’s story and wanted to help.

“I can’t believe the WIAA is really taking it this far to make sure that they want to make sure that this story is real,” Toshner said. “The story is real.”

Josh can’t believe how many people have heard his story and how many are trying to make a difference just so he can compete.

Onwunili thumbnail

“I have never seen people rally around like this,” he said. “I don’t know what to say, honestly. It feels amazing.”

He said it's been a week full of emotions.

“It’s been a roller coaster. I graduated this week too. It’s been up and down and yeah its been crazy but yeah ending pretty well.”

Read the full statement from the WIAA below:

"The WIAA Executive Staff, Board of Control, and elected and appointed committees have the responsibility to uphold the integrity of the rules for education-based athletics as established by the membership. Schools have the opportunity to utilize the membership process and work cooperatively with the executive staff to substantiate an extenuating circumstances waiver request. The executive staff and school leaders work diligently with members to ascertain any and all resolutions that provide eligibility for student-athletes to compete. These cooperative efforts, which produced additional documentation presented to the executive staff, were the impetus to affording unrestricted eligibility for the 2024 WIAA Tournament Series."

Below is also the full emailed statement from Representative Jerry O’Connor, Fond du Lac.

"Our office wants to provide a late Friday update. We have spent the last two days working with the State WIAA Executive Director, Stephanie Hauser, Congressman Glenn Grothman and his assistant Sally Cole, the Campbellsport Athletic Director Tom Griesmer, Coach Derek Toshner, and Josh's family to wade through the WIAA requests to find a win-win outcome for this waiver request that will allow Josh to compete in State High School track meets.

Without going into a long trail of WIAA processes, let me note that Congressman Grothman and Sally Cole have gone to great lengths to obtain official documentation regarding the Father's visa status. This has been sent to WIAA's office. This decision should never have taken this long and this family put through this grueling process.

Through a combination of media pressure and legislators using their influence a right decision has been made, I just received official notice that Josh's waiver request was approved. Run Josh run!”

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