Alabama Governor Kay Ivey, a self-identified Republican and Baptist, sided with athletes at a Seventh-day Adventist high school who had to forfeit a game when the high school’s athletic association State has been reluctant to reschedule a playoff game.
Students at Oakwood Adventist Academy in Huntsville, Alabama, were unable to participate in the Saturday, Feb. 19 game because the game began at 4:30 p.m. local time, about an hour before sunset, the end of the Sabbath, observed by Adventists and Jews, among other religious groups.
In a letter to Alvin Briggs, executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association, Ms Ivey said she was “very disturbed” by the sports group’s refusal of a request from Oakwood to change timeslots with a game at 7:30 p.m.
She noted that Faith Christian School, Oakwood’s opponent in that Northwest Alabama regional semifinal, had accepted the change. Decatur Heritage Christian Academy and Cornerstone School, which had the later timeslot, were also consenting.
“I read that AHSAA denied Oakwood’s simple request – not once but twice,” Ms. Ivey wrote. The school, she said, would be “forced either to play a game against the precepts of the faith of its players and coaches, or forfeit the game entirely, and thus lose the chance to continue a season. hard-fought and hard-won success. .”
Ms Ivey asked the group to respond so that their views are known “as reforms are considered in the days and weeks to come”.
In a separate letter to the Oakwood principal, Ms. Ivey invited the team to meet her at the state Capitol in Montgomery, and a school official said the visit should take place “within the next week. “.
Neither Ms. Ivey’s spokeswoman nor State Rep. Mac McCutcheon, also a Republican and speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives, responded to requests for comment. State Rep. Laura Hall, a Democrat who represents the Huntsville area, also did not return calls seeking comment.
An employee of the Alabama High School Athletic Association said its officers were absent from the state basketball championship and would not be available for comment. Instead, the group cited a letter from Mr. Briggs to Ms. Ivey, in which he insisted that Oakwood Adventist Academy had agreed to the group’s requirement to ‘participate in all playoff games without petition’. or give up these games.
“Granting an exemption … for whatever reason, every time a request is requested, would be chaotic,” Mr Briggs wrote, adding that “group member schools write the rules” and that Oakwood could suggest a rule change, but hasn’t.
But AHSAA’s demand that Oakwood sign a letter “promising not to exercise their rights was unconstitutional in itself,” said Todd R. McFarland, an attorney for the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s North American Division. . “We believe that the fact that it was given [by the school] has no legal effect.
Mr McFarland added that “Oakwood Academy has not made any decision” regarding legal action against AHSAA, “but is exploring all of its options”.
Nationally, collegiate athletics has often attempted to accommodate religious observance. In 2018, for example, the NCAA moved a college basketball game to allow Sabbath-keeping students from Yeshiva University, a Modern Orthodox Jewish school in New York City, to compete.
Calvin Morton, athletic director of Oakwood Adventist, told The Washington Times that “something has to change for [other] religious schools” as well as Oakwood.
“Having the governor behind you and supporting reasonable accommodation – that’s huge,” Morton said.
He said that in asking AHSAA for a time change, “we weren’t trying to forfeit… We were just asking, ‘Could you accommodate us for an hour, two or three hours, so we can play to the game and avoid the situation we are in right now?”
Morton noted that Oakwood University, also in Huntsville and also owned by the Adventist Church, saw Sabbath accommodations when its school teams competed in the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge, an academic bowl for historically black colleges and universities.
“I hope to believe it would be the same for high school and track and field, but unfortunately that’s not the case,” he said.