Sabbath conflict could end Jewish school’s playoff run

By Chris Duncan
Associated Press

HOUSTON — A Texas agency has turned down a request by an Orthodox Jewish school in Houston to reschedule a championship game that could involve the school’s boys’ basketball team because the game time falls during the Jewish Sabbath.

The Beren Academy advanced to the semifinals in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools’ 2A tournament with a 23-5 record and was scheduled to play Dallas Covenant at 9 p.m. Friday.

Beren players observe the Sabbath between Friday night and Saturday night and won’t play basketball during those hours.

The academy appealed to TAPPS to have the game time moved, but the agency’s nine-member board unanimously voted to deny the appeal.

Dallas Covenant will instead play Kerrville Our Lady of the Hills, the team that Beren defeated in the regional final. The Beren team, meanwhile, will continue practicing this week, the players hoping that TAPPS will move the game to an earlier time on Friday.

“They say the inconvenience of rescheduling the games outweighs any other factors,” Beren coach Chris Cole said on Tuesday. “I don’t know where that decision goes. That’s a decision for people who are a little higher than I am. The main thing for us is to do the best we can, keep working hard and just be hopeful. We feel like it’s still Tuesday, and things can still happen.”

TAPPS director Ed Burleson said Tuesday that he doesn’t expect the agency to reverse its course. Burleson said he has received hundreds of emails and phone calls from as far away as Canada, accusing him of bigotry and anti-Semitism since word spread of the agency’s decision.

Burleson said the decision had nothing to do with religion, but rather the organization’s policy since its inception in 1978 not to change the playoffs date.

Beren joined TAPPS last year, and Burleson said the school was told then not to expect TAPPS to adjust its postseason schedule.

“We think it’s clear-cut,” Burleson said. “They were advised, up front, that TAPPS would not change that, and they chose to join TAPPS anyway. There was never any indication from TAPPS that their appeal would be approved.”

Cole, the coach since the 2002-03 season, acknowledged that he was aware of the possibility of such scheduling conflicts but was still hoping TAPPS would make an exception.

“It was our feeling that we could complete the playoffs,” Cole said. “There was no reason we saw (not to compete), other than changing the game times. We felt like we could make those changes, and the request was reasonable.”

Cole argued there was a precedent to Beren’s request. Last year, the soccer team at Arlington Burton Adventist Academy reached the TAPPS semifinals and faced a similar conflict with the Sabbath.

Burleson said the logistics were much easier for the soccer tournament, which has one classification and is played on a single field. The basketball tournament involves five classifications for both boys’ and girls’ teams for a total of 40 teams playing 30 games in two days.

“It’s a big affair and requires a lot of planning and scheduling and coordination to play that many games in that narrow amount of time,” Burleson said. “We have to rent facilities and we’re limited in the amount of time we have to rent those facilities.”

TAPPS is comprised of 220 schools, and Cole said the benefits of joining outweighed the drawbacks when Beren decided to apply for membership.

He says most schools have been “very understanding and accommodating” in adjusting game times to allow the Beren players to observe the Sabbath.

Now, they realize they’ll have to watch others vie for a championship that could have been theirs.

The lure of championship glory, though, isn’t enough to uproot the players’ deep-seeded beliefs.

The enrollment at Beren is only 274, and most of the students have grown up together, in a culture where faith and religion trump virtually everything else.

“There’s nothing in the Jewish religion that doesn’t want us to play basketball,” said Beren senior point guard Isaac Mirwis. “But it’s tradition, it’s principle, and we stick true to our principles and that’s what makes an identity … God doesn’t take a week off from us, so we can’t take a week off from God.”

Harry Sinoff, a rabbi and the headmaster of the Beren Academy, says he thinks his school’s request is reasonable and he doesn’t understand why TAPPS remains so rigid.