Maori Davenport will never be able to replace her lost senior season
With each passing day, Maori Davenport is being robbed of experiences she'll never get back. Opportunities go unrealized, moments are missed.
I know, because I've never stopped imagining the memories I never got to make.
As questions about Davenport's eligibility linger, time is running out on her high school basketball career. She remains suspended for a victimless violation, an honest mistake that she rectified. After playing for Team USA this past summer, Davenport cashed a stipend check for $857.20, only to learn that she would be ineligible under Alabama High School Athletic Association rules. So she reimbursed USA Basketball. That should have been the end of the story.
Instead, Steve Savarese, the executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association, suspended her for the season. Despite a public outcry, he has been steadfast in his assessment that allowing her to play would open the floodgates to all sorts of arbitrary judgments for those who run afoul of his organization's rulebook.
But as outraged parties flood Savarese's inbox and take to social media to protest his decision, every passing day is another loss for Davenport. Charles Henderson High School's regular season ends in three weeks. After playing in the first four games of her senior year -- games her team since has had to forfeit -- she has missed 16 and counting. But forget all the points and rebounds she could have been collecting along the way. How many teammates' shoulders would she have leaned on after running wind sprints, bonding through fatigue? How many laughs on the team bus has she missed?
Those were the visions that overwhelmed me as I trudged out of the school cafeteria 23 years ago, eyes red, heart breaking a little more with each step. The varsity basketball coach had delivered the line I've never stopped replaying: "As you know, we're only keeping 12 players this year. You were the 13th."
Let me be clear: Maori Davenport is a state champion who is the victim of a bureaucrat clinging to the precise text of a ridiculous rule. I was a decent basketball player who got cut by his coach, like thousands of other kids across the country who all have their own story to tell. Still, there is an intersection between the two situations -- the sense of finality caused by someone else's lack of humanity.
See, I was the only senior cut. One more spot would have allowed me to spend a final season with my friends, some of whom had been teammates since fourth grade. The only person preventing him from adding a 13th player was himself. He could have kept 15, as he'd done the year before, but he decided that his own rigid system was more important than simple kindness.
And that's exactly what Savarese is doing to Davenport. He could change his mind today and reinstate her. Might that create a bit of a dilemma if he faces a similar situation someday? Sure. But the only people who adhere to hard lines in the sand are those who lack the critical thinking skills to make nuanced decisions.
We take high school sports so seriously that we forget that we're dealing with kids, that we're supposed to be nurturing them. Could you imagine a piano player being banned from a school concert for taking money from a record company? An artist being unable to paint because she sold her work to a gallery? But Davenport represented her country, inadvertently got paid for it, and somehow can't do anything to make amends. What lesson is Savarese hoping to teach?
He needs to understand that a senior season is precious. Davenport will go on to play at Rutgers and possibly end up in the WNBA. But ask pro athletes about their high school days and you'll have to cut them off at some point -- those embers of childhood still burn bright. Nothing Davenport does in the future will make up for missing these special moments, especially when basketball is your greatest passion and you build your life around it. People move on from disappointment, yes, but it's a lot harder when you're reminded of it on a daily basis.
That's why Maori Davenport and those who have heard her story need to keep fighting. Savarese can still give her back a piece of her senior year. She can rejoin her teammates, chase another state title. This doesn't have to be over.
A senior season can live forever. And the absence of one can haunt for just as long.