How The State of Alabama Taking Over Birmingham’s City Schools Affects Athletics

August 16, 2012 /
The Birmingham News, Jeff Sentell


One of the summer’s looming athletics questions was a byproduct of the Alabama Board of Education taking over Birmingham’s city schools.

What would it mean to the city’s teams? Would Wenonah’s powerhouse basketball program have to skip those exotic holiday tournaments across the South in its quest for a state title three-peat?

Were the jobs of the system’s new football coaches in jeopardy? Those spring hires required new teaching slots amid a climate in which many qualified system employees did not retain their jobs.

Would bus travel be cut? Would stipends be limited? Would city coaching staffs be trimmed past the skeleton crews they are now?

Former Alabama state Superintendent Ed Richardson, who leads the state’s intervention team, provided the answers.

There would be no adverse effect, he said. That’s a good thing for the city’s athletes after a summer where students took a back seat to agendas. 

“The state’s involvement won’t have any impact,” Richardson said last week. “There are to be no cutbacks in athletic programs or otherwise.” 

Richardson said no athletic events would be canceled. He said everything would function as it would have otherwise. 

That’s good. 

What will be different is how each athletic program functions under state control. The elimination of the system-wide athletics director’s position, formerly held by George Moore, will bring significant changes. 

The new one-word reality: accountability. 

Richardson believed that the old way of doing things led to problems. 

“With the one system AD, the individual schools themselves deferred things to that AD rather than assume full responsibility of the school’s athletic programs for themselves,” Richardson said. 

What problems? AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese shared those with Superintendent Craig Witherspoon last week before a meeting with the city’s athletics directors and coaches at The Lincoln Center. 

Witherspoon stated at that meeting the city’s teams had totaled up 54 rules violations the past five years. Those transgressions brought on a total of $18,700 in fines by the AHSAA across that period. 

The new era calls for an in-house athletics director at every school, but the principal will still carry ultimate authority and responsibility for each of the school’s athletic teams. 

When the AHSAA inquires about anything at any member school, it calls the principal. That’s the way it is. 

There will be a shift of responsibility. Witherspoon stated he wanted a “more proactive stance in regard to athletics” among the schools. 

What did that mean? Savarese said that when he reviewed data he was disappointed to learn the system was lacking in the submission of an AHSAA declarations form that stated the teams it would field in each AHSAA sport for the forthcoming academic year. That form was due on May 1. 

He was also disappointed to see how many of the system’s coaches had not taken the AHSAA’s rules tests relating to each specific sport. 

“Athletics is the front porch of your school,” Savarese told the city’s coaches at that meeting. “It must not be a wreck.” 

But that’s what it has been. Think not? Consider the fact the city’s teams did not have budgets in place to oversee their programs. 

“The schools need to show expenses like transportation, officials and uniforms as part of a clearly defined budget,” Richardson said. “Then they need to track the revenue coming in from ticket sales. That way there’s a clear path of what expenses athletic revenues will pay for and then what the Birmingham system will pick up. There never really was a budget that says this is what it takes to fund the sports we have and this is the money we’ve made to pay for it.” 

The AHSAA has reached out with dedicated contact personnel to assist each school in that transition. 

Continuing education will be provided for certification as an athletic administrator, too. 

The AHSAA also hired eight new part-time compliance officers that will visit schools across the state. 

They will check administrative documents at each school to make sure each school is in compliance with AHSAA rules. 

That also creates a new working environment with the Birmingham Athletic Partnership. BAP was created to be a booster club for the city schools. 

It was created to supplement the city’s athletic budgets, not replace them. The relationship will be much more professional. 

When there’s a long-term need, those budgets will be consulted. That will go to a committee that will determine if that is a necessary expense. If so, then that is when BAP’s funding arm will be called upon. 

These are more marching orders than goals. Richardson said compliance with these new methods will be the state’s vision for the city’s teams going forward. 

“That has been made pretty clear,” he said. 

If there’s a time for growth or renewal, then this is it. A new school year is up ahead. Hope springs from the first day at every school. 

The new facilities at Parker will amplify morale. New coach George Bates can go undefeated this year in the interview department. He believes the world is flat when the rest of the world is quick to inform him otherwise. Why? Because that’s the mentality he needs within his program for the Herd to be successful. 

Huffman is completing a new school. Ramsay has rebooted its varsity football program after going into hibernation back in 1976. 

This could be their year. 

For that system to improve, it probably has to be.

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