As the largest governing body for high school athletics in the state, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) regulates, coordinates, and promotes interscholastic programs for member schools. The AHSAA also registers, trains, and regulates game officials. Founded in 1921 and based in Montgomery, the AHSAA is a private agency whose membership consists of nearly 700 public, private, and parochial schools representing more than 75,000 student-athlete participants. The AHSAA is funded by dues from member schools and through a portion of the gate receipts of state playoff and championship events. The AHSAA defines eight districts in the state, primarily according to geographical location.
In 1924, the AHSAA joined the National Federation of State High School Athletic Associations, the national leadership organization for high school sports. The National Federation is a service and regulatory organization that controls interstate athletic events and enables the 50-state association members to secure the benefits of cooperative action through pooling and coordinating the ideals of high school athletic administration.
The AHSAA sponsors state championships programs in baseball, boys' and girls' basketball, boys' and girls' cross country, football, boys' and girls' golf, boys' and girls' track and field, boys' and girls' soccer, softball, boys' and girls' swimming and diving, boys' and girls' tennis, volleyball, and wrestling. The AHSAA classifies member schools in a six-tier classification system based on enrollment—1A through 6A—with 6A containing the schools with the largest enrollment. Classification for private school members is likewise based on enrollment.
The AHSAA is composed of several councils and boards that oversee the organization and its activities. The rule-making body of the AHSAA is the Legislative Council, which is composed of 32 members, four individuals elected from each of the eight districts. The council has the authority to make changes in the AHSAA constitution and by-laws. The Central Board of Control is an executive board that is the final authority in AHSAA matters. It consists of one member of each district board, one board member from each of the four bi-districts, which were created to ensure minority representation, and one representative from the Alabama Department of Education. An executive director and the AHSAA staff of approximately 15 individuals are responsible for the operation of the organization.
Sellers Stough served as the first director on a part-time basis. Cliff Harper became the first full-time AHSAA head in 1948, with the establishment of a state office in Montgomery, and completed the first organization of high school athletics statewide, also in 1948. Herman L. Scott succeeded Harper as executive director in 1966. He helped facilitate the merger of the racially segregated high school athletic programs in the state in 1968 as mandated by a court order. (Black schools had competed in the Alabama Interscholastic Athletic Association.) Scott also organized and conducted the first state football championship program in 1966 and expanded girls' athletic programs. He also set in motion the creation of the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame, which had its first induction class in 1991.
Dan Washburn took over the ASHAA in 1991. During his 17-year tenure, he oversaw the revitalization of several AHSAA events and the establishment of new ones, including the Super Six Football Championships, State Finals Basketball Tournament, Elite Eight Volleyball Championships, and the All-Star Sports Week. The establishment of the State Finals in 1994 was unique because the boys' and girls' state basketball tournaments were held simultaneously at the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Arena in a Final Four format. The creation of the Super Six Football Championships in 1996 moved the football championship games in all six classifications to Legion Field in Birmingham.
Steve Savarese became the fourth full-time executive director August 1, 2007. Savarese created partnerships with the Jason Foundation and the Alabama Sports Foundation (ASF) in 2008. The Jason Foundation Inc., a non-profit organization, addresses the problem of youth suicide. This relationship resulted in the nation's first statewide provision allowing an athletic association's membership access to the Jason Foundation's youth suicide prevention training.
An integral part of the AHSAA is the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA), which is composed of coaches and administrators. This organization works in conjunction with the AHSAA in the professional development of coaches and athletic directors and administers all of the organization's all-star events, such as the Alabama-Mississippi football and basketball all-star games. AHSADCA also holds annual seminars to discuss drug testing policies and procedures, current sports medicine issues, Title IX responsibilities, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requirements, and legal issues in athletics.
The AHSAA has several corporate sponsors to provide management and consulting services to the organization, helping the organization coordinate events. It is also affiliated with the Bryant-Jordan Student-Athlete Program, which awards 96 scholarships annually to deserving high school seniors from AHSAA member schools. The initial scholarship offered by the program was the scholar-athlete scholarship, which began in 1986. In 1989, the Achievement Award was created to reward the student athlete who has overcome some obstacle or hardship to achieve success both athletically and academically. The amount of the award has increased from $8,000 to $600,000.
Whereas the AHSAA is the primary sanctioning organization for high school sports in Alabama (and the only one allowed for public schools), it is not the only such organization. The Alabama Independent Schools Association sanctions athletics for approximately 60 private schools throughout the state. Other smaller organizations, such as the National Christian Sports Conference and the Alabama Christian Athletic and Academic Association, sanction sports from smaller Christian schools and home schools, most commonly in eight-man football.
Rubin E. Grant
Published March 17, 2009
Last updated April 2, 2010