September 30, 2022

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Sports Really Satisfies

This week in high school sports: Oakwood Academy vs. the AHSAA

A weekly look at high school sports in the state of Alabama for the past week and a look ahead to what is on tap. This is an opinion piece (sort of).

It’s not unusual for the Alabama High School Athletic Association to face legal challenges, but two in three weeks?

That is precisely what executive director Alvin Briggs has dealt with this spring.

The first case – involving a Spanish Fort boys soccer eligibility issue – was dismissed earlier this week.

The second – Oakwood Academy’s suit – may be around for a while.

Oakwood, a Seventh Day Adventist school in Huntsville, filed suit this week, seeking a permanent injunction barring the AHSAA from refusing to accommodate religious requests for schedule alterations in postseason play and award compensatory damages “for the harm suffered” by the school.

Oakwood also is asking for a jury trial in the case.

RELATED: AHSAA responds to lawsuit

Oakwood forfeited a boys regional basketball game that was scheduled to be played at 4:30 p.m. on a Saturday in February. Seventh Day Adventists observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The school wanted the AHSAA to flip its 4:30 semifinal game with the second semifinal game, set for 7:30 that same day.

I have a couple of takes on this issue.

First, it would have been simple switch for the AHSAA to make when teams qualified for their particular regional, and I find it hard to believe any other school would have protested the move. Most would have been none the wiser. Controversy averted.

However, here is a key note: Former director Steve Savarese, Briggs and the Central Board recognized this particular issue could be a problem when Oakwood petitioned to join the Association in 2017. Both sides signed a document, stating that Oakwood would participate in all playoff games “without petition or forfeit.”

Seems pretty clear.

What should happen here in my mind is that Oakwood should follow the legislative process and submit a proposal for a rule change to possibly prevent a similar situation in the future.

You may remember that, after former Charles Henderson girls star Maori Davenport was ruled ineligible in 2019 for receiving a stipend from USA Basketball, the Central Board and Legislative Council ratified a change to the AHSAA’s Amateur Rule, allowing leeway in punishment for players who run afoul of the rule.

My guess is a similar proposal could lead to some leeway for Oakwood if submitted and passed.

However, since there already has been one press conference in this lawsuit, my guess is the plaintiffs are looking for a bigger stage.

Busiest time of the year?

It’s the busiest time of the year for high school sports as we near the end of the academic calendar.

State champions will be crowned in the next three weeks in six sports.

Here is the championship schedule for the month of May.

Today/Saturday – State track meets in Gulf Shores and Cullman.

May 9-10 – State golf championships in Huntsville.

May 12-14 – State soccer championships in Huntsville.

May 16-21 – State baseball championships in Jacksonville, Oxford.

May 16-17 – Decathlon/Heptathlon in Hoover

May 17-21 – State softball championships in Oxford.

Throw in spring football with multiple spring games across the state and that makes for a hectic month as we wrap up the 2021-2022 high school athletic calendar.

Rudy Abbott Field on the campus of Jacksonville State University. (JSU Athletics)

Headed back to Jacksonville State

I’m looking forward to heading to Oxford/Jacksonville in a few weeks for the state baseball finals.

I started my newspaper/journalism career at The Gadsden Times in 1990 and actually lived in Jacksonville for my first six months out of college.

I had two stints at the Times in the 1990s and those tenures – under the leadership of Hall of Fame Sports Editor Jimmy Smothers – are the foundation of anything professionally that has happened to me since.

While working in Gadsden, I covered Auburn, Alabama, high schools and, of course, Jacksonville State athletics. I can think of only one time I returned to JSU since moving to Montgomery and later to Mobile since I left in the late 1990s.

I’m looking forward to heading back and checking out the changes on a beautiful campus and also hanging out with my buddy Josh Underwood, the associate AD for media relations for the Gamecocks.

I enjoyed the finals when they were in Montgomery – another of my previous stops – but this will be different and that’s not always a bad thing.

RELATED: AHSAA moves baseball finals to Jacksonville/Oxford

NFL Draft Recap

Fourteen nationwide high schools had at least two alumni selected in the NFL Draft last week, including Alabama’s Saraland High School.

Former Spartans standouts Cordale Flott and Velus Jones Jr. entered the NFL via the draft last week.

In all, 12 former Alabama high school players were selected.

80s quote of the week

“Since when can weathermen predict the weather, let alone the future?” – Marty McFly, Back to the Future (1985)

Thought for the week

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll

Ben Thomas is the high school sportswriter at AL.com. Follow him on twitter at @BenThomasPreps or email him at [email protected]. His weekly column is posted each Friday on AL.com.