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SHE’S BACK: Maori Davenport returns to court

Maori Davenport had just finished her class of workouts in the Charles Henderson High athletic field house Friday morning at 10 a.m. when she was summoned to the office.

“Oh no, let’s see what this is about,” the senior basketball star said to herself.

It was six weeks ago, Nov. 30, that she had been called to the office and told she had been ruled ineligible by the Alabama High School Athletic Association, and could no longer play. Friday morning when she looked in the office door of Principal Dr. Brock Kelley and saw her mother Tara Davenport, Dr. Kelley and others smiling, she knew the news was better.

“It was one of those educational moments that you remember the rest of your life,” said Dr. Kelley. “I told Maori’s mom and dad that this might be one of the best things that has ever happened to me in education. Maori’s mother said, ‘Maori, we just found out you could play tonight,’ and Maori looked at her and the first words out of her mouth were, ‘It’s Showtime.’

“It sent chills down my body. Those are the moments in my career you long for as an educator, and it definitely ranks up there as a top moment for me, for a student to go through so much adversity and turmoil during her senior year.”

Six weeks ago, Maori Davenport was ruled ineligible by the AHSAA after a clerical mistake by USA Basketball and a check mailed to the Davenports for lost wages and employment opportunities.

When USA Basketball realized the mistake, CHHS was notified, as well as the AHSAA. The money was sent back to USA Basketball by the Davenports immediately, but because the check of $857.20 was over the limit of $250 the AHSAA allows, the AHSAA ruled Davenport ineligible.

Since then the case has become a focal point not only in Alabama, but America, with celebrities such as Billy Jean King, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and ESPN analyst Jay Bilas speaking in support of Davenport and calling for her reinstatement.

Friday morning Pike County Circuit Judge Sonny Reagan issued an emergency motion that stopped the AHSAA from disqualifying Davenport until the court takes into consideration and rules on a complaint filed by Maori’s parents, Tara and Mario Davenport.

The Davenports filed a lawsuit on Thursday, asking the court to invalidate the AHSAA’s suspension of Maori.

Friday evening on the campus of CHHS, a standing-room only crowd greeted Davenport in her return from a 16-game absence, a 72-17 win over Carroll High of Ozark.

Following the game in a room full of state and national media, Maori said she was relieved to be back on the court.

“It felt great,” said Maori, “I was just happy because I got to play again. I did not know when I would get to play again, but I knew I would eventually. This whole process has been crazy, but I just wanted this process to impact the world in some kind of positive way.”

Early Friday morning, Maori sent a text to her mom, before they knew of the court ruling allowing her to play again, which read in part, “Sometimes I talk to God and I ask him to use me to have an impact on the world before it’s all said and done. I think this situation is impacting the world.”

Tara Davenport agreed her daughter is very strong in character, and in faith, to only be a high school senior.

“I have got to mention the man up above,” said Mrs. Davenport. “We are Christian people and we believe in God and believe in God’s word and believe in God’s law, and those are some of the things I instill in her. I believe she believes those things also, and as long as she carries herself in God’s ways, she will be fine.”

CHHS Head Basketball Coach Dyneshia Jones was especially happy to have the 6’ 4” Rutgers signee back on the court.

“This is what I have been waiting on from day one,” said Coach Jones. “I am happy to see her back on the court playing with the rest of the girls. I never gave up hope, I knew it would come. I always believed this was not her fault and she deserved to be out here. We continued to fight for her and I knew one day she would be here. The way she played today was like she had never missed anything. She never got tired, as far as playing game speed, she did an awesome job today.”

National media asked Troy Mayor Jason Reeves how this ordeal has impacted Troy, and Reeves said everyone has pulled together to back Maori and her family.

“It’s not something that you ask for, but we have rallied around Maori and that is all we can do,” said Mayor Reeves. “Tonight is about Maori, so we are just taking it as it comes and we will move forward every day. We will just try to make sure that Maori stays on the court and this team has every opportunity to go as far as their talent will take them.

“It has been quite amazing. I don’t think I have ever seen how the state of Alabama has bonded around one thing like this. It has received national attention and the community support has been overwhelming. It has been a real point of pride, and it shows what living in a small town really means. Everyone has rallied around not only around Maori and the family but also these great girls and their coach and their school, so we appreciate how everyone in the school and team have all come together, and the community has all come together and embraced that and it really has been an overwhelming feeling.”