AHSAA ‘disappointed’ with Oakwood Academy sued after agreeing to membership terms
Lawyers representing the Alabama High School Athletic Association said Thursday morning in a statement to AL.com that they were “disappointed” that Oakwood Adventist Academy sued AHSAA and hope the case can be “resolved without lengthy and costly litigation.
Oakwood, a Seventh-day Adventist school in northern Alabama, filed a lawsuit this week, saying its religious rights were violated when it lost a semifinal in the men’s regional basketball tournament in AHSAA earlier this year at Jacksonville State University.
The February game was scheduled to be played on a Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Jacksonville State University. Seventh-day Adventists celebrate the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. The school had hoped AHSAA would reverse play time with the other Class 1A semifinal at 7:30 p.m. This does not happen.
AHSAA staff recognized this type of possible conflict when Oakwood applied to join AHSAA in 2017, and executive director Alvin Briggs said Oakwood agreed to follow AHSAA rules and agreed to participate in all playoff matches without petition or forfeit. A statement confirming these conditions has been provided in writing to AHSAA, and AHSAA has responded in writing.
In lawsuit, Oakwood Academy seeks permanent injunction restraining AHSAA from refusing to respond to religious demands to alter playoff schedule and award compensatory damages ‘for harm suffered’ in case . Oakwood is also asking for a jury trial in the case.
AHSAA attorney Jim Williams said the Association had encouraged Oakwood to participate in the legislative process and submit a proposed rule change regarding the issue, but the school decided to file suit instead.
Here is Thursday’s full statement from Williams, attorney for Melton, Espy and Williams, PC
We are disappointed that Oakwood Adventist Academy sued AHSAA.
Oakwood’s membership in AHSAA is 100% voluntary. When Oakwood applied for membership, there was a very specific discussion regarding the fact that playoff games were usually played on Friday and Saturday. Knowing this, Oakwood acknowledged in writing that they were “expected to participate in all scheduled playoff games without petition or forfeit” and their application for AHSAA membership was granted, on the understanding that Oakwood “agrees to participate in all league games without petition or forfeit.”
The Regional Basketball Championship schedule, including possible game days and times, was posted on the AHSAA website on July 28, 2021, which is six (6) months prior to the February 19, 2022 game. Therefore, Oakwood had known for six months that the game could take place at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, February 19, 2022. Yet Oakwood waited until Wednesday, February 16, 2022, just three days before the game, to voice its concerns. AHSAA offers 13 championship programs for boys and 12 championship programs for girls. Schedules are set months in advance so student-athletes, member schools, families, venues, spectators, fans and vendors can plan accordingly. Absolute chaos would ensue if now any of the 25 league schedules could change a few days before a game at the request of a team.
Oakwood was asking for preferential treatment over all other AHSAA member schools and the hundreds of student-athletes who meet established championship schedules. This, after Oakwood put it in writing, they wouldn’t. AHSAA is a voluntary association of member schools that set the rules. AHSAA encouraged Oakwood to participate in the AHSAA legislative process and submit a proposed rule change addressing this issue. Unfortunately, Oakwood opted to file this lawsuit instead. AHSAA remains hopeful that this matter can be resolved without costly and time-consuming litigation.
This is the second time in two weeks that AHSAA has been the defendant in a lawsuit. A Spanish parent from Fort High sued last month, hoping for a temporary stay in a football eligibility case. Although a Baldwin County judge granted the reprieve, the team did not play in the playoffs. The plaintiff filed a motion for dismissal last weekend and the judge granted that motion this week.