Basketball star Maori Davenport returns to court after judge grants emergency motion

Basketball star Maori Davenport returns to court after judge grants emergency motion
Maori Davenport receiving an award (Source: WSFA)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - High school basketball standout Maori Davenport made her long-awaited season debut on Friday.

The Charles Henderson senior had missed the entire season after being ruled ineligible by the AHSAA due to accepting a check from USA Basketball from when she played with the organization over the season.

On Friday, Circuit Court Judge Sonny Reagan granted an emergency motion filed by Davenport’s parents, asking that the court review the facts surrounding their daughter’s case and restrain the AHSAA from stripping the star student athlete of her eligibility.

As a result, Davenport was eligible to play pending a hearing before the Judge. She took the court when the Charles Henderson Lady Trojans played Ozark’s Carroll High School.

Davenport’s delayed senior debut came after the Alabama High School Athletic Association held a firm stance on the suspension even after public pressure mounts to reverse its stance.

The AHSAA ruled Davenport ineligible for her senior season after accepting a check of just over $850 from USA Basketball after playing with the organization over the summer.

Attention from the case received national attention over the last week, and local parents Friday night were still debating the complexities of the situation.

Lashunta Bowler was at the Woodlawn and Ramsay game Friday night to watch her daughter play. She said as a parent of a student athlete navigating the state guidelines isn’t always black and white.

“It’s not like they give you a handout of rules when we start. You’re responsible for finding out the rules yourself. So what do we normally do? Consult with the school and the coach,” she said.

Patrina Smith’s daughter plays for Ramsay and also played travel basketball with Davenport.

“I think we as parent need to be a bit more educated moving forward on the rules to try and prevent this from happening to our kids,” she said. “She’s a good girl and has done a lot for our country as far as playing.”

Ramsay girls basketball coach Ronnie Jackson says Davenport’s case can be educational moving forward.

“This situation right here, really helped us all out to know that something like this happens, we will do it the right way,” he said.

The high school association claims Davenport violated its “amateur rule,” and the organization’s central board president defended the move Monday, saying the payment wasn’t reported until long after it was received.

“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),” said AHSAA central board of control president Johnny Hardin.

Davenport’s school principal at Charles Henderson High School, Brock Kelley, fired back Tuesday saying the player’s mom, who is also a middle school coach, wasn’t notified until No. 26 by USA Basketball that the check was sent in error and that Davenport could not accept it.

Her mother then notified the AHSAA on November 27 and then returned the money on Nov. 28, according to a timeline provided by the school.

The family traveled to Montgomery on Tuesday to meet with members of the Alabama State Legislature.

“I’d like to see her playing ball,” said Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh. “Somebody needs to be held accountable. And I think there are those up ladder that should step up and they should find a way to let this lady play."

The athletic association also claims Davenport’s principal and coach should “know the rules.”

However, the school says neither party knew the check existed until after it was reported to AHSAA.

The AHSAA also used a case in Illinois as an example of how things should be done in this type of situation.

“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,” said Hardin in a statement.

USA basketball says that statement is inaccurate.

A spokesperson told WBRC the player “did cash the check after receiving it from USA Basketball.”

USA Basketball adds once the error was realized and the player informed USA Basketball, she immediately repaid the amount.

WBRC asked the AHSAA if they had any further comments concerning the Davenport case, but we were told Monday’s statement would be the organization’s only comment. You can read the full statement here.

Charles Henderson Principal Brock Kelley released the following statement:

“As principal of Charles Henderson High School, it is my goal to protect my students, faculty and staff, as well as the Charles Henderson name. Since November 28, 2018, it has been my goal to not only protect a Charles Henderson student athlete’s senior season, but also respect AHSAA policies and procedures. My school has respectfully proceeded through the steps of the appeal process, but we have been met with a “rules are rules mindset” throughout. I understand rules and believe in the fundamental aspects of rules. However, in this case, this is beyond the basketball court, beyond the rule book, and beyond this basketball season. This case is about character. It’s about integrity. It’s about doing the right thing and correcting a mistake when it’s is realized. The AHSAA never knew anything about the check until the Davenports reported it to them. The Davenports reported it to AHSAA and sent the money back within 48 hours of realizing Maori could not accept the check. My school was notified of this check after Ms. Davenport reported it to AHSAA on November 27, 2018, and no employee of CHHS knew anything until November 28, 2018.

AHSAA pointed out that Maori’s mother is an AHSAA coach. Tara Davenport is a coach because she graciously gives her time to coach the middle school team and then once that season is done, she assists at the high school as other middle school coaches assist. AHSAA stated that Coach Dyneshia Jones, our head women’s varsity coach, served on the Central Board of Control and for that reason, she should know the rules. However, Coach Dyneshia Jones was unaware of any payment made to the Davenports until November 29, 2018. Additionally, when we asked a member of the Central Board, off the record, to summarize the amatuer rule, they could not without physically opening and researching the AHSAA handbook. Then, AHSAA pointed out that I have not been to their conference for the past few years; however, AHSAA failed to report that Charles Henderson has had several representatives (CHHS Athletic Director) at these meetings. Also, after reviewing presentations from these conferences on the AHSAA website, the amateur rule was never discussed in detail. Now as principal, I’m well aware that I’m responsible for everything that happens on my campus no matter the circumstances. So if the AHSAA believes I’m at fault, then I’ll take the punishment if it helps restore Maori’s eligibility. I will state that USA basketball has been more than supportive and realize there are ways in which this could have been avoided.

Furthermore, throughout the process, we have respected every member on the central board as well as every employee at AHSAA, but we disagree with their final decision in this matter. I’ve asked them if the rule is going to be interpreted in this manner, then please change the rule to mirror the NCAA rule. Reinstate her under the new rule, but that has been rejected. During the first appeal to District 2, I was told the committee understood our side but if an overturn of Savarese’s ruling happened, it didn’t need to come from them but needed to come from the central board. District 2 committee members STRONGLY encouraged me to appeal to the central board. It is time for everyone to unite for a young student athlete in the great state of

Alabama who will long represent this state in more ways than just on a court. Maori is someone who carries herself with integrity, and her work ethic is impeccable. In conclusion, AHSAA stated there has been threatening communications that have been sent to Steve Savarese. By all means, I nor Charles Henderson High School condone any derogatory communications to anyone. This is a time for unity whether one agrees or disagrees with the interpretation or ruling in Maori Davenport’s case.”

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