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Alabama High School Athletic Association reverses sanctions against football team over gift cards

The Alabama High School Athletic Association walked back its punishment against a football team that rewarded players with restaurant gift cards.

Earlier this month, an Alabama high school was penalized for what the state's high school athletic association described as a violation of its amateur rule when some football players received restaurant gift cards.

The student-athletes at Tuscaloosa County High School had been given the gift cards as a reward for their playing well in a win over Central-Tuscaloosa. Tuscaloosa County is a member of the state's 7A classification.

"We got a call from the (Alabama High School Athletic Association) that we had some athletes recognized by receiving some cards to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings," Tuscaloosa County head coach Adam Winegarden said earlier this month via NJ.com. "Since they received those gift cards, it broke their status as amateur athletes."

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The AHSAA held a meeting on Tuesday and clarified its amateur rule as it pertains to gift cards to food establishments. The clarification led to the reversal of the sanctions against at Tuscaloosa County.

"I want to thank the Central Board for clarifying the AHSAA Amateur Rule concerning the receipt of food related gift cards by student-athletes," Alvin Briggs, AHSAA executive director said in a statement. "This clarification clears up any confusion our schools might have relating to gift cards and the Amateur Rule moving forward."

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The clarification states: "Gift cards from food establishments are excluded from this rule." The rule also makes it clear that "gift cards from any entity other than a food establishment if returned unused are excluded from this rule."

Tuscaloosa County previously forfeited its September 2 victory, but the school system released a statement this week saying the board's decision means the school will no longer have to forfeit the win.

"We thank the AHSAA Central Board for this clarification of the Amateur Rule. We are also appreciative that the sanction against TCHS has been rescinded and the TCHS win on September 2 will stand," the Tuscaloosa County School System said in a statement.

Winegarden previously noted that the gift cards in question had not been redeemed.

According to Winegarden, the AHSAA initially learned about the gift cards after another school alerted the association about Tuscaloosa County's potential violation. Some social media posts surfaced showing the Tuscaloosa County players with gift cards.

Winegarden said he would have preferred to have heard from the school that reported the possible violation before they went to the association.

"We are really disappointed we didn’t get a call from the school which turned us in," Winegarden said. Following an appeals process, the student-athletes who received gift cards have been reinstated and are eligible to play, he said.

The reversal meant that Tuscaloosa County's record would have three wins heading into the team's matchup against Hewitt-Trussville. Tuscaloosa went on to suffer a 42-7 loss to Hewitt-Trussville on Friday night.

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