The Spain Park girls’ basketball team was honored with individual trophies and commemorative coins on Monday evening after being denied the title for winning a boys’ tournament.
The fifth grade girls received their trophies in a private ceremony with the mayor of the city and looked excited to get their hands on some hardware.
“The members of the Lady Jags 5th grade basketball team all smiled as they received a trophy and commemorative coin from Mayor Brocato in recognition of their recent championship win,” read a Facebook post from the City of Hoover.
“The team received their trophies at their request in a private ceremony instead of attending Monday’s city council meeting.”
According to reports, the girls of Spain Park – an elite Hoover team – were told at the start of the season that they would not be able to practice at the local gym unless they joined the boys’ recreation league.
The Spain Park girls’ basketball team was honored Monday night after being disqualified
The players looked elated as they were recognized for their tournament wins
Despite being an elite team – one that performs tryouts to fill the squad – the Spain Park girls did just that, winning the tournament championship before being told they were ineligible for the trophy.
Instead, the hardware was given to the boys recreation team they defeated in the finals.
That decision sparked controversy, as a team mom sparked the debate with a Facebook post.
“What did they do to get disqualified?” asked Jayme Mashayekh, the mother of one of the girls on the team. ‘Didn’t they pay their dues? Didn’t they play a level higher in the league? Oh, it’s because they’re GIRLS?!?!’
The problem, according to the HPRD, stemmed from tournament rules that differentiate elite teams from recreational league teams, and not because of the gender of the eventual champions. While the girls from Spain Park competed against boys, they were still considered a select or ‘elite’ team, and therefore never qualified for a trophy in the tournament which consisted mainly of recreational teams.
“Only regular recreation teams are eligible for prizes/trophies,” the HPRD statement reads. “Coaches of the ‘elite’ teams will be made aware of and agree to these rules at the time they request to participate.”
The team’s coach, Wes Russell, released a statement following a response to the alleged censure, insisting that he and the girls were aware of the rules from the start of the season.
He also insisted that his team had not been treated unfairly, claiming that throughout his 12-year coaching career ‘boys and girls have always been treated equally’.
The HPRD insisted that the girls who were snubbed had nothing to do with their gender
The girls were one of two “elite” teams invited to Monday’s city council meeting
The girls received their trophies and commemorative coins from Mayor Brocato
“Social media posts have negatively portrayed the rules and policies of the City of Hoover Parks and Recreation as unfairly treating girls versus boys,” Russell said.
“The City of Hoover has allowed our team to use and practice in municipal gyms, just as they have in my 12+ years of coaching in both the Hoover girls’ and boys’ leagues. Our team knew the rules of the Hoover Rec competition prior to the tournament and we still chose to allow our team to participate in this boys’ tournament,” he added.
“I’ve coached boys’ and girls’ flag football, and boys’ and girls’ basketball, all under the umbrella of the City of Hoover leagues. In my 12+ years of coaching, boys and girls have always been treated equally.
“While the perspective of this story may seem to portray the city of Hoover in a negative light, my personal experience and that of so many other Hoover families tell a different story,” he said. ‘The Hoover Parks and Rec Dept. has agreed to review the rules regarding competitive teams playing in the rec league to clarify the rules and make them fair for all participants in the future.”
“So proud of Rylie and her basketball team,” Mashayekh’s post read. “It was a hard lesson they learned tonight. They won the 5th grade boys rec league championship but did not get the trophy.
‘These girls have played together for 3 years for a competitive girls league representing Spain Park. All are 5th graders in the Hoover school system. Midway through (sic) their season they were told they could not use the Hoover gyms for their workouts unless they paid to play in the Hoover Rec League.
“They were told to stick together as a team, they had to level up in the league and play against the 5th grade boys,” Mayshayekh continued. “The girls have been in the middle of the pack all season, losing several close games by 1 point.
“Playing the boys was a challenge they took on. It made them better players and a better team. They were told before the championship they could play in it, but if they won they wouldn’t be allowed to have the trophy.’
The HPRD responded in a statement on Monday, explaining that the Spain Park girls and another elite team would be honored at Monday night’s city council meeting.
“Questions have recently been raised about the recognition of teams participating in a youth basketball tournament conducted by the Hoover Parks and Recreation Department (HPRD),” the organization’s statement reads.
HPRD has for years allowed “elite” teams in Hoover to participate in tournaments it hosts. Those “elite” teams are not wanted by HPRD, but rather come to HPRD and ask to participate. Members of ‘elite’ teams are selected by hand.
“They don’t go through the same talent evaluation as those who participate in regular recreation teams. Therefore, ‘elite’ teams willingly agree to compete against recreation teams in another division within their level or against teams above their level to ensure fair competition for all youth athletes.
If an ‘elite’ team takes part in an HPRD youth tournament and makes it to the championship round, they will not be eligible for prizes/trophies. Only regular recreation teams are eligible for prizes/trophies. Coaches of the ‘elite’ teams will be made aware of and agree to these rules at the time they request to participate,’ the statement concluded.
The organization promised to review its policies to ensure fair competition and procedures, and that those details are “understood more clearly.”
Mashayekh did not respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment.