2 months ago

Marsh, Ainsworth call on AHSAA to immediately reinstate Maori Davenport

State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh and Lieutenant Governor-elect Will Ainsworth on Monday called on the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) to immediately reinstate Maori Davenport for the remainder of her senior season at Charles Henderson High School in Troy.

The USA Basketball U18 star and Rutgers signee was ruled ineligible by the AHSAA on November 30 after the association learned that the forward/center cashed a check for $857.20 that was mistakenly sent to her by USA Basketball as a stipend for lost wages and costs associated with representing her country over the summer.

On Thursday, ESPN picked up the story, which caused a national groundswell of support for Davenport and backlash against the AHSAA.

In a letter sent to AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese on Monday, Marsh called for Davenport’s immediate reinstatement. 

The letter read as follows:

Dear Mr. Savarese:

As you are aware, when I learned of Maori Davenport being ruled ineligible to participate in her senior basketball season, I was outraged and took it upon myself to investigate this matter.

Having spoken with you and other interested parties on this matter over the weekend, I understand that the Alabama High School Athletic Association Board issued their ruling on Ms. Davenport’s eligibility based on a set of facts as they were presented at the time.

I have been made aware that there has been new evidence presented in this matter and am hereby calling on you to ask the Chairman to reopen this investigation AND reinstate Ms. Davenport’s eligibility pending the outcome of this investigation.

After the release of the letter, Ainsworth took to social media to back Marsh’s stance.

AHSAA comments

Amid the wave of blowback over their decision the AHSAA on Monday released a statement to explain their position and the set of facts that led to their decision.

In this statement by AHSAA Central Board of Control President Johnny Hardin, he doubled down, declaring that no exceptions should be made to association rules and confirming that Davenport is being punished for the mistakes of others.

“No one (including USA Basketball or CHHS) disputes the Amateur Rule was violated,” Hardin outlined in the beginning of his statement.

He detailed, “On August 15, 2018, USA Basketball paid the student $857.20 for lost wages while participating with the USA Basketball team over the past summer. Neither USA Basketball, the student’s parents, the student’s coach, nor CHHS administration reported the student had received the check until three months later, (specifically 91 days). During this time, the student played in several games. The AHSAA Amateur Rule states in part ‘A student cannot accept payment for loss of time or wages while participating in athletics as part of expenses . . . A student who has lost his/her amateur standing may be reinstated after the lapse of one high school season for the sport in which he/she has become professional . . .’”

“The check ($857.20) paid to the student was dated August 15, 2018, and endorsed by the student and posted to the student’s bank account on August 27, 2018. The student’s mother sent USA Basketball a check in the same amount three months later on November 28, 2018,” Hardin said.

November 28 was reportedly when USA Basketball realized its mistake. At that time, they notified Henderson High School in Troy, the AHSAA and Davenport. Davenport then sent the money back and self-reported the incident (her mother notified the AHSAA on her behalf).

Additionally, the AHSAA is contending that the player be held to account for her coach and her mother’s respective backgrounds with the AHSAA.

“The student’s mother is a certified AHSAA Basketball Coach; therefore, she is required to uphold current AHSAA bylaws and rules, including the Amateur Rule quoted above. Furthermore, the Head Girls’ Basketball Coach at CHHS is a former member of the AHSAA Central Board of Control; thus, she should not only appreciate the importance of knowing and following the AHSAA bylaws and eligibility rules but also understand how imperative it is to consistently uphold the same rules,” Hardin asserted.

Hardin also defended the embattled AHSAA executive director, Savarese. National basketball and media figures have called into question Savarese’s job safety, with state Rep. Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) joining the fray on Monday.

“Has anyone heard from Steve Savarese? He is flat out wrong here. Do the right thing Mr. Savarese. Maori Davenport should be reinstated immediately. If this is how you do your job, then maybe you shouldn’t have it,” England tweeted.

In the defense, Hardin stated, “Steve Savarese, as AHSAA Executive Director, made the eligibility ruling based upon the plain language of the Amateur Rule. As Executive Director, Mr. Savarese does not have the authority to change a rule. Rather, as Executive Director, his job is to apply the rules as written.”

Throughout his lengthy statement, Hardin made clear that the AHSAA strictly wants “the rules as written” applied. Savarese’s decision to do so was upheld unanimously by two AHSAA appellate boards.

“Following Mr. Savarese’s ruling, the school appealed to both appellate levels for the AHSAA. First, to the District 2 Board – affirmed by unanimous vote of the 4-member Board. Next, to the Central Board of Control – affirmed by unanimous vote of the 15-member Board which represents the entire State,” Hardin detailed. “Thus, this ruling was affirmed by the Board that under the AHSAA Constitution has complete and final jurisdiction over all questions of the Constitution and Bylaws or other facts appealed to it by a member school. Mr. Savarese was not present at the District appeal or during deliberation at the Central Board hearing. To be clear, this ruling was affirmed by the Central Board of Control and as Executive Director, Mr. Savarese does not have the authority to change or reverse a ruling made by the Central Board.”

If this was not enough to throw the onus off of the executive director of the association, Hardin went a step further, casting blame on all of the member schools for writing the rule in the first place instead of the people charged with its enforcement.

Hardin pleaded, “Also, please remember, the AHSAA member schools, not Mr. Savarese nor the AHSAA staff, write and approve the AHSAA eligibility rules which include the Amateur Rule.”

“The AHSAA Legislative Council has the authority each year at the annual meeting to amend the AHSAA Constitution and Rules. Meaning, each year the member schools (including Charles Henderson High School) have an opportunity to change a rule or create new ones. The penalty for violating the Amateur Rule has not been amended in at least the past 10 years with Mr. Savarese as Executive Director. Which, in turn, means each year Charles Henderson High School has agreed to the penalty for violating this Rule without comment or pursuing any kind of rule change within the legislative process,” he continued.

Hardin then turned his aim to the principal of Charles Henderson High School.

“Each year these Rules are reviewed multiple times during AHSAA sponsored and hosted seminars with the member schools and are available on the AHSAA website. A review of all Summer Conference and Principals’ and Athletic Directors’ Conference attendees show the Principal for Charles Henderson High School has not attended the 2016, 2017, or 2018 Summer Conferences or the 2016, 2017 or 2018 Principals’ and Athletic Directors’ Conferences,” Hardin remarked.

He then circled back to the assertion that no exceptions can be made to AHSAA rules.

“The stories and comments being circulated throughout the media and social networks are asking that an exception be made to the Amateur Rule because it was not the student’s fault; the fact the money was repaid, and that the student is an exceptional athlete and will miss her senior year. However, if exceptions are made, there would no longer be a need for an Amateur Rule,” Hardin claimed.

He continued, “The Rules are applied equally to ALL athletes. Furthermore, most eligibility violations are the result of adults failing to follow the rules. Here, the student’s mother as a certified AHSAA Coach should know the rules; the School’s Principal should know the rules, the Head Basketball Coach, as not only a Coach but also as a former Central Board member, should know the rules.”

Hardin also emphasized another reason for ending Davenport’s senior season, saying that the AHSAA did not want to create a loophole for other athletes to exploit in the future.

“Another point not mentioned in the public stories being circulated is that creating an exception to this Rule would have provided an avenue to exploit student-athletes by providing an opportunity for students to receive money and prizes for athletic participation and if discovered, state they didn’t know the rule, thus allowing them to return the items and retain eligibility,” Hardin outlined. “This is why AHSAA stresses to the leadership of its member schools how important it is to know the rules and advise their students regarding all rules that affect eligibility. Informing student-athletes of the consequences for violating such rules is the responsibility of the adults supervising them.”

Hardin then moved on to criticizing USA Basketball specifically.

Part of his statement reads as follows:

“It should be pointed out that a high school student from Illinois also received payment from USA Basketball. However, that student called her high school once she received the check and then returned the check to USA Basketball without cashing or depositing it. Here, the student received the check, endorsed it and it was posted to her bank account. Three months later, AHSAA was notified and the monies returned to USA Basketball.

A high school student from Missouri has also been ruled ineligible for this basketball season for accepting the lost wages payment from USA Basketball.

USA Basketball never called Charles Henderson High School or AHSAA to ask if payment for lost wages violated AHSAA rules until November which was three months after payment was made and accepted by the student. This was not a clerical error but a complete lack of administrative oversight on the part of USA Basketball, thus possibly rendering multiple student-athletes ineligible as most states have an Amateur Rule.”

One glaring omission in Hardin’s statement was this unanswered question looming in the air: What if Davenport – and USA Basketball – had not notified the AHSAA after they realized their mistake?

To observers, unanswered, it seems that the AHSAA is saying that admitting a mistake and returning the money deserves no flexibility in the application of the “rules as written,” while hiding the payment (lying) would have allowed Davenport to play her senior season.

Hardin ended his statement with praise for Savarese and the AHSAA staff for upholding its “Constitution and Bylaws.”

“Lastly, misstated facts and placing Mr. Savarese’s email on social media has led to Mr. Savarese and the AHSAA staff receiving threatening, irresponsible, and vulgar communications,” Hardin said. “We, as the Central Board of Control, stand by the staff of the AHSAA and thank them for their unwavering support of the AHSAA mission, educational athletics, as well as the AHSAA Constitution and Bylaws.”

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

Leaders deliver results for a stronger Alabama

Thank you to the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate for your bi-partisan support of the Rebuild Alabama Plan. Because of your leadership, this historical effort will result in safer roads, thousands of new jobs, and a stronger Alabama.  Finally, it’s time to #RebuildAL.

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1 hour ago

Alabama Power, employees continue to support Lee County tornado relief

Alabama Power, the Alabama Power Foundation and the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO)remain committed to helping restore normalcy to Lee County and supporting the victims of the March 3 tornadoes.Company efforts began shortly after the storm hit, when crews throughout the state supported restoration efforts. Within 36 hours, all 26,000 customers affected by storms and who could take service had their power restored.

Once initial restoration and rescue work was completed, the Alabama Power Foundation and APSO volunteers joined other organizations and businesses to support community needs.

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“We have mobilized our resources – through both the Alabama Power Foundation and our employee-led volunteer organization APSO – to serve Lee County and the surrounding communities,” said Myla Calhoun, vice president of Alabama Power Charitable Giving and president of the Alabama Power Foundation. “These activities are core to our mission of supporting the communities we are honored to serve.”

The Alabama Power Foundation provided two $20,000 donations to disaster relief funds at the United Way of Lee County and the East Alabama Community Foundation. Funds will be used to support local recovery efforts.

Other volunteer efforts include:

  • APCO Employees Credit Union disaster relief account: The Alabama Power Employees Credit Union activated a disaster relief account to raise donations that ran through Friday, March 15. The credit union will work with the Red Cross to purchase needed supplies with donated funds.
  • Red Cross stations: APSO volunteers are coordinating with the Red Cross and Providence Baptist Church in Opelika to assist with sorting and preparing donations for distribution.
  • APSO Chapter donation bins: APSO Chapters across the state are accepting donations to support recovery.
  • Hygiene packs: APSO chapters are donating hygiene packs to victims.
  • Eufaula Humane Society donation: Local APSO Chapter donated $500 to the Eufaula Humane Society, which was devastated by the storms.
  • APSO volunteers at Red Cross telethon: APSO volunteers answered phones and took donations at the Red Cross’ telethon March 6.

To learn more about the charitable initiatives of the Alabama Power Foundation and how APSO members are helping build a better Alabama, visit https://powerofgood.com/.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

Ivey: Space and Alabama go hand-in-hand

I am so pleased that Vice President Mike Pence has chosen Huntsville to host the National Space Council on Tuesday.

The purpose of this gathering – in the shadow of the Saturn V rocket, which was developed right here in Alabama – is to discuss the future of American human spaceflight that is so appropriate as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. The past, present and future of American space leadership flows through Alabama.

The great minds at Marshall Space Flight Center also helped bring about the marvel of the Space Shuttle, which was essential to building and servicing the International Space Station, launching and servicing the Hubble Space Telescope, enabling crucial national defense missions and many more accomplishments.

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Even as we remember triumphs like these with immense national and state pride, we recognize that any nation that rests solely on its laurels will quickly find itself looking from the rear. We also understand that America’s preeminence in space is not a foregone conclusion and that much of the world looks to America to lead in space.

I laud President Trump’s active engagement by ensuring American leadership in space. Moreover, I know this is essential to not only inspire young people but, also to advance the American economy while always looking out for our national security. Reviving the National Space Council and the Space Policy Directives that have been signed, to date, signals that these are not just empty promises.

Alabama’s proud tradition of leading the way in America’s space program continues today with the Space Launch System, America’s next great ship, which has been designed, engineered and tested in Alabama and has a significant supplier base and workforce throughout our great state and around the country.

SLS isn’t about a single rocket or launch. Instead, it is a transformational national capability which will serve as the backbone of our deep space exploration efforts, enabling the return of American astronauts to the Moon and taking them further into space than ever before. In doing so, we will create new markets for the burgeoning space industry and enable greater international cooperation than ever before.

From a national security standpoint, China continues to develop their own deep space capabilities, landing the first spacecraft on the far-side of the Moon, which should serve as a clarion call that we risk losing our footing.

America’s Defense Intelligence Agency recently noted in their report, 2019 Challenges to Security in Space, that China and Russia are developing their own SLS-class rockets because they understand the importance of this super-heavy-lift capability for national exploration, defense and other purposes.

Despite challenges in developing the first super-heavy-rocket in over 50 years, SLS is coming together now and is being done carefully with safety as a top priority, especially since it will be carrying crews to deep space beginning with its second flight.

We have learned much over the last several years and it’s all coming together now – the supplier base is reinvigorated, we’ve implemented new technologies in designing and building and we’re seeing significant improvements in schedule with each new rocket under construction.

To date, the test articles for SLS have been produced and most are in test stands at Marshall right now; the first flight rocket is in final integration at Michoud Assembly Facility and three of the five segments have already been joined together. Eventually, the enormous liquid hydrogen tank and engine section will be added to the rocket. The second SLS launch vehicle, is already well underway in production to launch crew in 2022.

Additionally, the Exploration Upper Stage that is being developed at Marshall will provide a critical increase in capability when it launches in 2024, boosting SLS performance from 27 metric tons to the vicinity of the moon to 45 metric tons. We respectfully disagree with the FY’20 budget request about deferring this work – it’s an essential part of our capability and Congress has repeatedly directed that this work continue to be ready by 2024.

Some have proposed that NASA consider alternative launch vehicles for the first Orion flight, given the challenges with launching a brand-new rocket of this unparalleled capability by a date certain in mid-2020. But with all due respect to the critics, we have seen that even two heavy lift rockets are incapable of accomplishing what SLS can do in a single launch. For that reason – and in our collective view – we must stay the course, accelerate the SLS schedule and keep the integrated Exploration Mission 1 to test SLS and Orion together. Doing so will provide crucial data to mitigate the substantial risks posed by deep space missions.

Time is of the essence, not only to ensure that American taxpayer’s investments are well spent, but because we must seize the initiative and solidify American leadership in space once again.

Again, I welcome Vice President Pence and the National Space Council to Alabama, and I appreciate President Trump’s strategic focus on space. Alabamians have been crucial to building America’s great space heritage and, once again, we are actively engaged in leading the new era of deep space exploration.

Kay Ivey is the 54th governor of Alabama.

5 hours ago

Marine Resources Division considering changes to flounder, trout limits

Alabama’s inshore anglers are aware that fishing for two of the most popular species – southern flounder and spotted seatrout – has not been up to normal Gulf Coast standards in the past few years.

The Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) is seeking public input on how to mitigate this downturn in the abundance of the two species. MRD recently held public meetings with commercial and recreational anglers to discuss what management measures would be supported.

“I was very appreciative of the number of people who came to the discussions about the possible changes, and that’s important,” MRD Director Scott Bannon said. “It’s important to us, and it’s important to them.”

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Anglers who came to the public meetings at 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center last week heard Bannon and MRD Chief Biologist Kevin Anson present the current status of flounder and trout. MRD is considering options to help the fish stocks recover, including a reduction in bag limits, increased size limits and possible closed seasons.

“I’m kind of surprised by how many people are supportive of a reduced bag limit as a management tool,” Bannon said. “I’m very pleased with the feedback from people about what they see when they’re out fishing and what they think might help. Coupling that with what our science says, I think we’re going to be able to make some decisions that are going to be helpful for the resource but also still work with what our fishermen want in Alabama. Believe it not, one of the comments that I’ve received several times is that, even though people understand there is going to be some change, they appreciated the state’s effort to get the public’s opinion. As one person said, it shows we really do care.”

Of the two fish species, flounder is MRD’s biggest concern because of reduced harvest by both commercial and recreational anglers in recent years. The estimated harvest during the past 15 years shows a harvest of about 350,000 flounder in 2002 to about 150,000 in 2017. A significant spike in harvest occurred during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill because of a shift in angler effort from offshore waters to inshore waters.

“I think it’s going to take a multi-pronged approach both to recreational and commercial fishing to assure the stability of that fishery,” Bannon said. “These are hard decisions. On the commercial side, this affects income, but we want to sustain their income long-term.”

Bannon said about 30 commercial fishermen are targeting flounder with gillnets, while a small percentage are reporting harvests using gigs. Bannon is concerned that some giggers are skirting the reporting law.

“There is only a small number of people with commercial licenses who are reporting harvests using a gig,” he said. “All commercial harvests are required to be reported. But we think a number of people are recreationally fishing under a commercial license, and those fish aren’t getting reported. They purchase a commercial license to exceed the 10-fish bag limit.”

Bannon said the only management tool that would restrict this practice is a daily bag limit for those who hold a commercial license. Recreational anglers currently have a 10-flounder bag limit with a minimum size of 12 inches total length.

“Some people are truly commercially fishing,” he said. “They are using it to make a living. Others are just exceeding a bag limit. Gigging is a very effective fishery. The technology is helping them with better lights and better boats, like with most fisheries. We are going to work with the industry to see what’s a realistic bag limit, looking at the landing numbers. We could be looking at a combination of bag limits, size limits or a seasonal closure.”

MRD data shows that November is a month with a high commercial harvest number because flounder migrate to the Gulf of Mexico to spawn.

“Any time you have fish that have a specific spawning run, it’s beneficial to allow them to make that run, and with flounder, the females do come back inshore,” Bannon said.

Anson said Alabama is not alone in terms of a foundering flounder fishery.

“This isn’t just an Alabama problem,” Anson said. “Other states have seen reductions in flounder landings as well, both commercial and recreational. It just seems that we are ground zero as far as seeing the largest drop in landings.”

Fisheries managers use spawning potential ratio (SPR) to determine the health of a fish stock. For flounder, the target SPR to maintain the population is between 25 and 30 percent.

At the current harvest rate, if the minimum size for flounder remains at 12 inches, the population will not be able to sustain the target SPR. An increase in size also increases the number of eggs the females release during the spawn.

According to MRD data, an increase in the minimum size to 13 inches would allow 20 percent more fish to remain in the water. An increase to a minimum size of 14 inches would allow 38 percent more fish to remain in the water.

MRD’s Claude Peteet Mariculture Center in Gulf Shores is also gearing up to spawn flounder in recently purchased tanks and equipment. Bannon said they hope to eventually release between 50,000 and 60,000 flounder fingerlings annually.

For spotted seatrout (speckled trout), a recent MRD assessment indicated recruitment of juvenile trout back into the fishery has been below traditional levels.

Bannon said a seismic shift in fishing effort has played a role in the fishing pressure on speckled trout. High fuel costs and restrictive bag limits on reef fish species caused many offshore anglers to start fishing inshore waters.

“We went from 50,000 inshore fishing trips annually in the early 90s to more than 500,000 in 2011,” he said. “That’s a ten-fold increase in fishing effort. That’s a concern. All of our habitat is accessible to fishermen. It’s a popular fish, so there’s a lot of effort focused on them, partly due to the short federal fisheries seasons.”

The annual harvest during that time increased 600 percent, and a downturn of landings in 2014 suggests the fishery is unstainable under that intense fishing pressure.

Bannon said anglers who target speckled trout, which has no commercial harvest because of its game-fish status, have indicated support for a reduction in the current 10-fish bag limit. Anglers have also indicated support for a slot limit and/or an increase in the current minimum size, which is 14 inches total length. The red drum (redfish) fishery has a slot limit of 16-26 inches with an allowance of one oversized fish.

“If we do go to a slot limit on trout, there will be an allowance for one oversized fish,” he said. “Most anglers who target these fish understand there are some concerns and agree that if we act responsibly now we will be in better shape. The goal is for anglers to catch larger fish more consistently.”

Anson said increases in size limits that MRD is considering include a bump in the minimum length to 15 inches, which would allow more than 227,000 trout to be returned to the water annually. An increase to a 16-inch minimum size would mean more than 400,000 could be returned to the water each year.

MRD will hold a meeting with the charter-for-hire operators on March 27. Bannon said, depending on feedback from the public, MRD may decide to hold another meeting before finalizing its management proposals.

Bannon said MRD welcomes comments on the proposed changes to the regulations on flounder and trout. Send comments to scott.bannon@dcnr.alabama.gov or kevin.anson@dcnr.alabama.gov by April 13 to ensure the input will be considered before the next Conservation Advisory Board meeting, scheduled May 4 at The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel.

“After we complete the meetings and compile the public input, the staff will have discussions, followed by discussions with the Commissioner (Chris Blankenship),” Bannon said. “Then we will develop a proposal for the Conservation Advisory Board on May 4.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

19 hours ago

Blountsville substitute teacher jailed after gun accidentally goes off in classroom

Tragedy almost struck in Blount County on Friday afternoon when substitute teacher Henry Rex Weaver’s gun was accidentally discharged in a first-grade classroom.

WBRC is reporting that Weaver, 72, has been taken into custody and held in jail after his gun went off at Blountsville Elementary.

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Officials initially advised that no one was injured, however, WBRC later reported that one “student had ‘very minor’ injuries” and was treated at the scene. Students were in the classroom at the time Weaver’s gun, which was in his pocket, discharged.

Weaver faces charges of possession of a deadly weapon, aggravated assault and reckless endangerment.

The debate on whether qualified, trained teachers should or should not be able to have a gun in his or her classroom was a major topic in the 2018 state legislative session.

Update 4:35 p.m.:

According to Alabama Media Group, Blount County District Attorney Pamela Casey elaborated that the student with a “very minor” injury was struck by a fragment and attended to by the school nurse.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn