I must admit that Linsanity spoke to me far more than I had anticipated. A
die-hard West coast sports fan like myself is generally hard-pressed to root for
anything positive in the New York sports scene, but Jeremy Lin’s story was an
Watching the ever-swelling pride of the Asian- American
community with each outstanding performance rang true to me as an American-born
While I, of course, encountered a similar emotional experience with
Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to ever play in the NBA, my real Jeremy-Lin-like
moments were in high school basketball.
I went to YULA (Yeshiva
University high schools of Los Angeles) and we were a basketball
While Jewish New York high schools played in ‘The Yeshiva League’
we were going up against California’s best, including a number of future NCAA
Division I athletes.
For me, playing in a non-Jewish state-wide pool was
a tremendous experience and a source of pride.
I fondly remember
excitedly checking the LA Times every week to see our best player’s names on the
state scoring leader list. For an 18-year-old Jewish boy growing up in love with
sports, this was an exhilarating time and I truly believe I learned a lot in the
ways of self-worth and inclusion by our school’s full participation and success
in the league.
This is why the story of the Robert M. Beren Academy Stars
is so disheartening.
Beren Academy is an Orthodox Jewish high school in
Houston, Texas whose basketball team won its regional championship to advance to
the state semifinals this weekend in Dallas. However, the Stars will not be
making the trip.
Their semifinal game was scheduled for 9
Friday night, smack in the middle of Shabbat.
The school has
made a number of appeals to the Texas Association of Private and Parochial
Schools (TAPPS), the organization in charge of the tournament.
TAPPS denied their appeal, Beren has received a shocking amount of national
media attention. The story has been covered by ESPN, ABC News, and even spoken
about by former Houston Rockets head coach and current ‘NBA on ABC’ analyst Jeff
However, all the attention was to no avail, with TAPPS
sustaining their appeal and replacing Beren with the team they had just defeated
to compete in the final four.
I spoke to Beren senior Ahron Guttman after
what will most likely be the team’s final practice of the season, and for Ahron,
the last of his high school career.
“As a team we are sad that we weren’t
able to play,” Guttman said. “We feel like we could have done very well. But we
spoke to our coach and he told us how extremely proud he is of us for this
season, on and off the court.”
While I, too, feel that the Stars have a
tremendous amount to be proud of, I am not willing to let TAPPS off that
Never mind that they had recently changed the scheduling of a game
for a school of Seventh Day Adventists, who observe the same Sabbath as
What truly troubles me is the essence of high school sports being
mired under the guise of procedure and policy.
High school athletics, as
I see it, is a fantastic medium for kids of all cultures to come together in the
name of healthy competition and character development. While its governing
bodies must of course adhere to a set of rules, no rules should be so important
as to overshadow this greater mission.
A bewildered TAPPS director Edd
Burleson exclaimed to The Washingtonian
“Why should we allow one or two or three
schools to dictate what 120 other schools do?” The real question that should be
asked is why shouldn’t these two or three schools be afforded this unique
experience simply due to their religious beliefs, especially if the
rectification of the problem is of minimal effort? If the game is moved to
Saturday night, who loses? In fact, Beren’s would-be opponents had already
agreed to push the game off a day.
This appears to be a tragic, and far
too common, example of letting procedure get the best of common sense, a
bureaucratic sentiment that has no place high school athletics.
of nonsensical rule would be more discouraging if the Stars weren’t taking it as
well as they have.
It is encouraging to me that while I feel TAPPS has
denied the Stars players what could have been a wonderful learning experience,
they are not leaving the situation without a little wisdom.
is important, clearly everyone on the team feels that way, we practice every day
of the week, it’s a huge part of our life,” an introspective Guttman explained,
“but in the end our religion is what we are really about.
nothing that can get in the way of that, that’s who we are, that’s what we
So while the Asian community continues to go ‘Linsane’ I
must say that I am a bit ‘Star struck’ (I hope that catches on).
inspired to hear Ahron reflect that “part of this for us as a team is character
building, just knowing who we are.” Despite TAPPS efforts, the Stars seem to
have taken the true value from high school athletics, facing adversity and
overcoming it to help define who they are as a young adults heading into the
So while we may not be able to gush over our Jewish brothers
claiming a state championship, we can still hold out heads high thanks to the
mature and principled response of the Beren players, coaches, and school
I have a feeling this will be a special Shabbat they all
remember for the rest of their lives.