Gaining support: Davenport gets national, state attention

Published 9:30 pm Tuesday, January 8, 2019

By Mike Hensley and Jacob Holmes

Troy Mayor Jason Reeves Tuesday called the circumstances of CHHS basketball player Maori Davenport’s ineligibility “really unbelievable.”

“Anyone that thinks Mario or Tara Davenport would knowingly risk the senior season of their daughter over an $857.20 check is not in touch with reality,” Reeves said following a meeting of the Troy City Council Tuesday. “It is as simple as that.”

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Davenport was ruled ineligible on December 4, 2018, after the Alabama High School Athletic Association was notified that she had received and cashed a check sent to her by USA Basketball for her participation on the USA under-18 team in Mexico City over the summer.
Charles Henderson officials appealed the decision to the AHSAA District 2 Board and to the Central Board to no avail.

The decision of the AHSAA has since come under national media scrutiny, with politicians to media outlets criticizing the move and calling for Davenport’s reinstatement.

Davenport appeared on Good Morning America Tuesday with her mother Tara to discuss her ordeal.

“My parents called the coach (of the USA Basketball team) to make sure that it was OK and he said ‘yes’ and that everybody was going to get the check,” Davenport said.

“It’s kind of unfair that this has happened,” Davenport said. “I didn’t do anything wrong. My parents sent the money back as fast they could. I’m still getting punished.”

“They said that she received the check and cashed the check and she wasn’t supposed to and therefore she had broken the amateur rule,” added her mother Tara Davenport.

ESPN’s Jay Bilas also wrote a report on the situation, speaking with AHSAA Director Steven Savarese about the decision. He further criticized the decision on an episode of ESPN’s Outside the Lines covering the situation.

NBA star Chris Paul even took to Twitter to criticize the decision, asking, “How is this even fair?? She shouldn’t pay for someone else’s mistake. This is CRAZY!!!!”

In response to the media pressure, the AHSAA released a statement Monday fully backing its ruling.

“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,” said Johnny Hardin, president of the AHSAA Central Board of Control, in the statement. “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.”

Charles Henderson principal Brock Kelley responded to the Hardin’s claim on Tuesday morning.

“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,” Kelley said. “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 amateur rule, they could not without physically opening and researching the AHSAA handbook”

According to Kelley, this case goes way beyond the boundaries of a basketball court.

“I understand rules and believe in the fundamental aspects of rules,” Kelley said. “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.”

Team USA took complete responsibility in the matter in December. Hardin blamed the situation on lack of administration oversight.

“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,” Hardin said. “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.”

Davenport said she appreciates the support she has been getting locally and across the country.

“It just makes me feel that the whole world has my back,” Davenport said. “I’m not alone in this situation. A lot of people don’t agree with what is going on.”

Davenport visited the state legislature Tuesday to garner support from political leaders in the state.

State Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh even sent a letter to Savarese requesting for Davenport to be reinstated.

“As you are aware, when I learned of Maori Davenport being ruled ineligible to participate in her senior season, I was outraged and took it upon myself to investigate this matter,” Del Marsh told Savarese in the letter. “Having spoken with you and other interested parties about 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 to reinstate Ms. Davenport’s eligibility pending the outcome of the investigation.”

Davenport made the trip up to Montgomery on Tuesday to address both the democrat and republican caucuses and after received a standing ovation. She was later brought onto the floor of the senate to be honored. Senators from both parties went up to the microphone to express their support and their belief that she should be reinstated.

“I was honored to be in a building like that,” Davenport said. “A building full of people who have political power in the state of Alabama.”

“Today was a good day,” said Rep. Wes Allen, R-Troy. “She had a chance to tell her story. Maori has overwhelming support form from the legislature. I am proud of her. We are working on a solution to get her back on the court.”

Allen coached Davenport in their church youth basketball league.

“She has always been a young lady that carries herself with class and integrity,” Allen said. “She is a hard worker and has a great family. Maori represents CHHS, the City of Troy and her country with the upmost integrity.

“Maori is one of the most elite basketball players in the country. She works hard to always improve and I hope she can continue to play for CHHS in the very near future.”

Whether she gets to play again this season or not, Davenport hopes she is helping to make sure this situation will never happen to another student athlete.

“I just know that I would want somebody fighting for me and to keep things from happening to me,” Davenport said. “I want to be that person. I hope this ends with me being able to play again, but if it doesn’t, I just want to be sure this doesn’t happen to any student athlete in Alabama.”