By Sara Smart, CNN
Alabama’s governor is demanding answers after a high school basketball team say they were forced to choose between their faith or a game.
Oakwood Adventist Academy is a Seventh-Day Adventist school in Huntsville, located 100 miles north of Birmingham. Their men’s basketball team had advanced to the semifinals of the state tournament last week, the school’s Athletic Director, Calvin Morton, told CNN Wednesday.
But the regional semifinal game was set for Saturday, February 19 at 4:30 p.m., and would interfere with Sabbath, which is observed from sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday.
Morton said he emailed the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) to ask if they could play at 7:30 p.m. instead, after sunset, to meet their religious beliefs.
That request was denied.
“We weren’t asking for a change of stadium or venue or a change of a different day,” Morton told CNN. “It was a simple two-to-three hour game change … which we thought was a reasonable ask.”
The other teams participating in the tournament were willing to accommodate and swap game times, Morton said. When he relayed that message to AHSAA in a follow up, they still denied the change.
AHSAA told CNN they have no comment at this time.
Morton said they had a team meeting and everyone was on the same page: They would forfeit. “We were taken aback and upset that they weren’t going to play,” Morton said.
Now, Governor Kay Ivey is stepping in and demanding answers from the association.
Ivey took to Twitter on Tuesday to share the letters she sent to AHSAA Director Alvin Briggs and Judy Chiles-Dent, Oakwood’s principal.
“I am writing to express my profound concern — and to get some answers — about the alleged treatment of Oakwood Adventist Academy,” Ivey wrote in the letter to Briggs.
That letter goes on to list questions for the organization that she demands answers to. These include: “Which AHSAA employees were responsible for making this decision?” and “How can we as a State ensure that something like this never occurs again?”
In her letter to Principal Chiles-Dent, Ivey offered solidarity.
“The idea that a team like Oakwood could be denied a chance to compete based on its faith — without even the most modest of accommodations — is deeply concerning,” Ivey’s letter reads.
The governor went on to invite the principal, players and coaches of the basketball team to the Alabama Capitol to celebrate the team’s achievements and tell her about their time in the tournament. The team plans to accept Governor Ivey’s invitation and hope they can meet her in the next week, Morton said.
“It’s great that we have that support for us,” Morton added. “It’s not just for Oakland Adventist Academy, it’s for any other school or academy that has religious values or beliefs.”
Despite their forced forfeit of the game, the team still traveled to the tournament at Jacksonville State University to cheer on the other teams, according to CNN affiliate WAFF.
The team’s senior captain, Raynon Andrews, told WAFF they have no regrets about their decision.
“There is a whole Facebook community, there are people all around the world texting parents, saying how proud they are of us,” Andrews said. “That means a lot.”
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CNN’s Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.