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Ala. Gov. Wants Answers on ‘Inspiring’ High School Team That Refused to Play on the Sabbath

Oakwood Adventist Academy
L: Oakwood Adventist Academy (OAA) congratulates Decatur Heritage Christian Academy, at team that was willing to switch game times with OAA. R: Alabama Governor Kay Ivey hosts a press conference in 2017. 187th Fighter Wing, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Alabama’s governor is calling a high school basketball team in her state an “inspiring example” of faith after players forfeited a tournament game rather than play on their Sabbath. Gov. Kay Ivey also is demanding answers from state athletic officials about what happened with Oakwood Adventist Academy, saying she wants to avoid similar situations in the future.

Oakwood Adventist Academy Forfeits Game

Oakwood Adventist Academy, a Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) school in Huntsville, was having its best basketball season in school history. When the team learned that its regional semifinal game was slated for 4:30 p.m. last Saturday, Feb. 19, athletic director Calvin Morton sought a workaround.

SDA Christians observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday, so Morton requested a time adjustment of two or three hours—something he thought was “a reasonable ask.” Although other teams agreed to switch with Oakwood, offering it a 7:30 p.m. post-sundown timeslot, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) denied the request.

Faced with the choice of violating their faith or forfeiting, Oakwood players chose to forfeit. But instead of sulking, the team traveled to the playoffs to cheer on other schools—including one that had been willing to switch game times.

Oakwood doesn’t regret its decision, according to senior captain Raynon Andrews. “It’s more than just basketball,” he says. “People all around the world [are] texting parents, saying how proud they are of us. That means a lot.”

Speaking to a local Christian radio station, Andrews admits the situation “sucked” because it’s his senior year and his “last chance to make a state run.” But, he adds, “I knew God was working in a way I couldn’t see. So I just had to put my trust and faith in him that it was the right decision.”

Alabama Gov. Invites Oakwood Adventist Academy to State Capitol

After hearing about the team, Gov. Ivey wrote two letters: one to the school and one to the AHSAA. To Oakwood’s principal, Ivey expresses “solidarity” with the basketball players, saying it’s “deeply concerning” that the team was “denied a chance to compete based on its faith—without even the most modest of accommodations.”

The governor praises team members as “worthy ambassadors for their schools and their communities,” saying they exhibited a “selfless display of sportsmanship” by cheering on competitors. Ivey also invited the team to meet with her in Montgomery to celebrate its season and to discuss the tournament experience.