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Gov. Ivey demands answers from AHSAA after basketball team forced to forfeit over religious reasons

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Governor Kay Ivey has issued a demand for answers from the Alabama High School Athletics Association after a Huntsville high school basketball team was forced to forfeit a tournament game over their religious observances.

The Oakwood Adventist Academy varsity boys basketball team had its best season in school history. The team won their sub-regional game against Skyline last week and would have played in the regional semi-finals.

The game was scheduled for Saturday, February 19th at 4:30 p.m. However, the team could not play due to their religion. The Adventist faith observes the Sabbath from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. The game’s start time was before the sunset on Saturday.

“Few things are more important to Alabamians than their faith,” said Governor Ivey in a letter to the AHSAA. “…I hope you’ll understand why I was most disturbed to read about Oakwood’s alleged treatment at the AHSAA’s basketball tournament and why this episode raises some very pressing questions, not only for me but for public officials and citizens across our great State.”

The letter to AHSAA officials asked numerous questions including:

  1. Is the Public narrative about Oakwood’s treatment accurate?
  2. If so, how was this treatment allowed to occur?
  3. Which AHSAA employees were responsible for making this decision? Who was consulted for the decision? What discussions were had, and what communications were exchanged before making the decision?
  4. Did the decision to deny the religious accomodation violate any AHSAA policy or was it permissible?
  5. Were AHSAA officials aware of how the team’s treatment would be percived by the team and the coaches? If not, why wasn’t that a factor in the decision?
  6. Were AHSAA officals aware of how the teams treatment would be perceived by Alabama taxpayers who fund AHSAA’s operation? If not, why wasn’t that a factor in the decision?
  7. How can we as a State ensure this never happens again?

The school reached out to the AHSAA to ask if they could get their game switched to a 7:30 p.m. timeslot. Another pair of teams in the division were already scheduled to play at that time, but both teams agreed to switch their time. The AHSAA did not allow the switch and the team forfeited instead of breaking their faith.

Read Governor Ivey’s full letter to the AHSAA here.

Ivey also reached out to the Oakwood Adventist varsity team and their coaches.

She expressed solidarity with the team saying, “The idea that a team like Oakwood could be denied a chance to compete based on its faith – without even the most modes of accommodations – is deeply concerning.”

Ivey invited the team and their coaches to the Capitol to meet with her and hear about the team’s experience at the tournament.

“I will be able to work with others in state government and the athletics community to ensure a situation like this never happens again,” Ivey wrote in the letter to the team.

Read Governor Ivey’s letter to the Oakwood Adventist Academy varsity team here.

News 19 reached out to the Alabama High School Athletic Association last week about the matter. Director of Communications Ron Ingram said, “AHSAA has no comment.”

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