Last month, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) declined to accommodate Oakwood Adventist Academy in Huntsville, whose boys’ basketball team requested a three-hour rescheduling for their religious observance of the Sabbath.
As a result, Oakwood Adventist Academy forfeited its Class 1A playoff game.
AHSAA insisted it was acting within the rules to force the forfeiture because Oakwood Adventist Academy signed an agreement when it became a full-time member of AHSAA in 2017.
The AHSAA's decision not to accommodate Oakwood Adventist caught the attention of Gov. Kay Ivey, Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth and many members of the Alabama Legislature.
Among those members of the legislature is State Rep. Kyle South (R-Fayette), who has questioned the AHSAA's governance of high school athletics in Alabama over the past few years.
During a Monday appearance on Mobile radio FM Talk 106.5's "The Jeff Poor Show," South said he was not arguing for more bureaucracy but indicated the AHSAA's handling of specific situations, including a lack of transparency, left much to be desired.
"[I]t's a frustrating topic," South said. "There's a lot of things we would like to change. I'm not for growing government and creating a new department under the Department of Education to deal with this kind of stuff. It's just that I think we could all use a little bit more transparency. What we are looking for at the end of the day is to make sure we are providing the best opportunity that we can for our student-athletes at the high school level."
South warned the AHSAA could be engaging in religious discrimination given its standard for not allowing sports to be played on Sunday while telling another institution they must play on Saturday.
"They will tell you Oakwood signed a contract with them, stating that their religious beliefs would not interfere with championship play," South said. "You would think, hey, you're kind of discriminating against them for their religious beliefs because they're really the only ones that you've pointed out as if to say, 'Hey, we need you to sign this contract before we let you in our association because we know going in that you have these beliefs.'
"So our question to the AHSAA is who else has signed similar agreements. I'm not sure that there are any examples out there. But also, AHSAA doesn't allow for Sunday play. So, are we literally discriminating against one religion more so than everybody else? And I know there are talks ongoing to allow for Sunday play in certain sports. Tennis and golf are the ones that come to mind the most just because they're generally played more on the weekend than during the week. But again, we may not have discriminated at the point to say you've got to play on Saturday afternoon, but maybe we did discriminate when we asked you to sign that contract, to begin with."
The AHSAA has generally been dismissive of the different levels of the state government, including members of the Alabama legislature, the governor and the lieutenant governor, when they have expressed their concern, especially in the Oakwood Adventist Academy situation.
South said there was a degree of hypocrisy from the AHSAA, whose officials were working behind the scenes to promote legislation to ban transgender athletes from participating in female athletics.
"[H]ow does a state law fix an issue over here, but we can't fix another one?" South said. "There's a lot that I don't understand completely and maybe you're not getting the correct answers or specific answers for those kinds of things. It is awfully frustrating."
The Fayette County lawmaker said he did not expect the legislature to completely overhaul the AHSAA but there were discussions about legislation that would rein it in.
"There are definitely still conversations ongoing about legislation," South said. "I don't think it's going to be a complete overhaul by any stretch. But I think there are some things being discussed and considered that could possibly prevent this one situation, anyway, from happening in the future."
Despite having to forfeit their game, Ivey hosted the Oakwood Adventist Academy boys' basketball team in Montgomery last month.
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