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Team forced to forfeit due to religious observance

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — The Oakwood Adventist Academy varsity boys basketball team has had its best season in school history. The team won their sub-regional game against Skyline on Tuesday night – advancing them to a spot at the regional semi-finals.

“This is the first time that Oakwood Adventist Academy has gone this far in varsity basketball,” Athletic Director Calvin Morton told News 19.

The regional semi-final game is scheduled for Saturday, February 19th at 4:30 p.m. However, the team will have to forfeit due to a religious observance. The Adventist faith observes the Sabbath from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. The game’s start time is before the sunset on Saturday.

“The sun sets at 5:31 p.m. on February 19th, 2022,” Morton said.

The school reached out to the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) to ask if they could get their game switched to the 7:30 p.m. timeslot. Another pair of teams in the division are already scheduled to play at that time.

Morton says they reached out to those teams, and they were fine with a switch; however, the AHSAA was not.

“They were firm in their stance and said no,” Morton continued.

Morton says the team has worked so hard and it’s sad to see their season end on something that’s out of their control. He says it’s frustrating that the games can’t just be switched.

“We’re not asking to change a venue, we’re not asking to change a date,” Morton stated. “We’re just simply asking to change a 4:30 time to a 7:30 time to accommodate our religion and our faith.”

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

When asked to elaborate, Ingram said “all games are scheduled to be played at the time scheduled.”

News 19 also spoke with a parent of a player on the team and an Associate Pastor at Oakwood, Toussaint Williams. He said the players joked at the beginning of the season about making the playoffs, but it didn’t seem like they actually had a shot. However, Williams said they were able to come together as a team.

“They have worked hard and I’ve seen them put in the work,” said Williams.

Team captain Raynon Andrews is a senior. He’s played on the varsity team all four years, and recalls times when they didn’t win a single game during the season.

“We were just losing every game. It was just game after game, loss after loss. But after junior year hit, we just started winning games,” Andrews told News 19.

Andrews said this season they worked through COVID-19 protocols, losing team members, and other challenges. He said winning with his teammates is “an amazing feeling.”

Andrews said he was a “little disappointed” to have to forfeit the game, and end the season early. However, he holds his faith strong, and said the issue is about “more than basketball.”

Andrews said his message to the AHSAA would be, “I want them to see our stand in our faith, that we won’t back down for a basketball game.”

“I’m going to follow my religion, no matter what consequences from the world that come, I’m always going to support,” Andrews said. “I’m always going to stay firm, stand firm in my religion.”

In an email to News 19 at 4:49 p.m. on Friday, February 18, Morton said they were officially forfeiting the game.

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