Orthodox school gets to play, but loses in tourney

Texas Jewish school grabbed national headlines with its push for a pre-Shabbat starting time for its semifinal basketball game.

By JTA
March 4, 2012 13:36
2 minute read.
Boys basketball team at Robert M. Beren Academy

boys basketball team at the Robert M. Beren Academy 390. (photo credit: Samantha Steinberg)

 
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FORT WORTH, Texas - The Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston lost 46-42 to Abilene Christian in the 2A private and parochial boys basketball state championship game.

Down by 11 points early in the fourth quarter, Beren closed the deficit to three points with two minutes to play, but couldn't cap the comeback effort.

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Co-captain Isaac Mirwis and junior sensation Zach Yoshor led Beren with 15 points each. After a slow start, Yoshor hit a three-point shot to tie the game 19-19 at halftime.

Beren grabbed national headlines with its push for a pre-Shabbat starting time for its semifinal game, which the school won with a decisive 58-46 victory over Dallas Covenant to secure a spot in title game.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, known as TAPPS, originally ruled that the semifinal game would be played at its original 9 p.m. Friday start time -- after the start of the Jewish Sabbath. Beren, a Modern Orthodox school, would have opted to forfeit without a change in the schedule.

But TAPPS reversed itself just hours after the announcement that Beren's team captain, along with teammates and parents, had enlisted the support of prominent Washington attorney Nathan Lewin and filed a lawsuit against the association; the lawsuit also named the Mansfield Independent School District, whose facilities are hosting the semifinals and finals of the 2A tournament. The 2A category includes schools with enrollments of 55 to 120.

The championship game was originally set for 2 p.m. Saturday, which also conflicts with the Sabbath.



"We feel this was a success," said Rabbi Harry Sinoff, Beren's head of school, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. "We got to compete in a basketball game, but the whole experience for the school was really remarkable. It brought the community together. Sometimes you don't have an event like this to do that. We're not pioneers. We just thought it was right for us to play. It was good for basketball."

TAPPS in a statement posted on its website Wednesday had said that when the Beren Academy met with the association's board in 2009 to discuss membership, it was told that tournament games are scheduled on Friday and Saturday, and that the school's athletic director said he "understood" and "did not see a problem."

Beren's plight made international headlines this week and garnered support from several public figures, including the mayor of Houston, the former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy and US Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). The team, which with a 25-5 record is playing the best basketball in its history, had earned a spot in the state semifinals last week with a 27-point victory in the quarterfinals.

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