Orthodox Jewish hoops team wins chance to play in TAPPS semifinals

By Chris Duncan
Associated Press

HOUSTON — Organizers of a Texas state basketball tournament relented Thursday and agreed to reschedule a semifinal game involving an Orthodox Jewish school after parents filed a lawsuit over the original game time, which conflicted with the Sabbath.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, had rejected Beren Academy’s requests to reschedule a semifinals game that was to be played at 9 p.m. today. Beren players observe the Sabbath between Friday night and Saturday night and won’t play basketball during those hours.

A group of parents with boys on the team subsequently sued TAPPS and sought a temporary restraining order requiring the agency to reschedule the game.

After being notified the lawsuit had been filed, TAPPS director Edd Burleson said the association would reverse course and allow Beren (23-5) to play Dallas Covenant at 2 p.m. Friday afternoon. Should the Stars win, they’ll start their championship game no earlier than 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Headmaster Harry Sinoff and coach Chris Cole only learned of the legal action on Thursday morning, they said, and regretted that the situation reached the level of legal action.

“It’s a mixed emotion,” Cole said. “We feel like we’ve earned the right to play. Our focus all week has been trying to get TAPPS to reschedule the game times to accommodate us.

“At the same time, this was not the course of action that we wanted.”

Burleson said earlier this week that association bylaws prevented TAPPS from moving Beren’s game time.

The complaint says that the basketball team is “being denied, solely on account of their religious observance, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete in their athletic conference’s state basketball championship tournament.

“That is an irreplaceable opportunity,” the complaint said, “and its deprivation constitutes irreparable harm attributable to disqualification of Beren and its team because of their Jewish religious beliefs and observances.”

Cole made the awkward call to TAPPS on Thursday morning, stressing that the school itself did not file the legal action.

Beren, with an enrollment of 247 students, immediately held an assembly in its gym, where rabbi Avi Pollak informed all the students that the game was back on.

“You could see some excitement in the hallway,” Cole said. “My phone started going crazy.”

When he went to bed on Wednesday night, Cole was resigned to the fact that the team’s season was over.

TAPPS twice denied appeals by Beren to have the start time of its semifinal game moved, and Cole called off Wednesday’s practice and presided over a team meeting instead.

“We felt like we had exhausted all opportunities,” Cole said. “We kind of sat around, like a family, and just talked and reminisced about things that happened during the season. It was a nice, quiet time. Today’s events were pretty shocking.”

Beren, a TAPPS member since 2011, advanced to the semifinals by beating Kerrville Our Lady of the Hills last week.

Sinoff said the school never planned legal action, even though the final resolution was what the school wanted from the beginning.

“We deserve this opportunity, we’ve made that case all along,” Sinoff said. “This is good for basketball, it’s good for the tournament. These are the teams that should play.”