The Houston school ultimately lost the championship in the final game, but their initial refusal to play at all hurled them well past local news outlets and into the national (and international) spotlight. The semifinal game was scheduled for Friday night, conflicting with Shabbat; if they won that, the finals were scheduled for Saturday afternoon, well before sunset.
Beren Academy, an Orthodox day school in Houston, is part of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (Tapps), which organizes the basketball tournaments. They were warned when they joined Tapps that the post-season games, played almost exclusively on Fridays and Saturdays, might pose a problem for the Sabbath-observant team.
So after Beren’s victory last week catapulted them into the final two games, the players and their coach knew their stellar season might end with a forced forfeit. While other games throughout the season and playoffs were rescheduled when they conflicted with Shabbat, this wasn’t up to an individual team or coach. This was the decision of Tapps.
Beren filed an appeal with Tapps anyway, which Tapps unanimously struck down. Tapps offered the classic teacher line: If I make changes for you, I have to make changes for everyone. They claimed that the two-day championship schedule, with many teams needing the court, was too tight. This was despite Beren’s opposing team agreeing to switch to earlier in the day, despite at least three other schools agreeing to change their play time, despite Beren offering to foot the bill for any financial cost stemming from the time change.
Beren filed another last-minute appeal, and were again denied. The mayor of Houston and prominent athletes appealed to Tapps on behalf of Beren. Hearteningly, almost every blogger and op-ed writer sided with Beren and implored Tapps to do the right thing for the kids.
However, Tapps remained immovable. The players were rightfully disappointed, but to their credit, remained levelheaded throughout their ordeal. Violating the Shabbat, they said over and over, was simply not an option.
Then, at the last-last minute, parents of some of the players hired an attorney and filed a restraining order against Tapps.
The courts ruled in Beren’s favor, stating that Tapps was engaging in religious discrimination, as they defer to the Christian Sabbath (they never play games on Sundays) but not the Jewish one. They forced Tapps to reschedule the games to accommodate Beren.
Tapps begrudgingly followed suit, the head of the association announcing, somewhat spitefully, “Unlike some others, Tapps does follow the law, and we will comply.”
The Beren boys won the rescheduled semifinal on Friday afternoon, rested on the seventh day, and ran out quickly Saturday night to play the championship game. They lost the final game, upsetting, to be sure, but so much less upsetting than not being able to play at all.
The big “win” for the Beren players and their parents, however, did not occur when the courts ruled in their favor. It did not occur during the semifinal game Friday afternoon. It occurred much earlier in the week, and in fact, they’ve been practicing for it all their lives.
The shining moment occurred when these kids, raised with firm Jewish values and unshakeable faith, saw their season nearly come to an abrupt and unfair end, and yet they were able to look crushing disappointment in the face and say with conviction:
“We are disappointed. But our lives are filled with much Bigger Things than basketball. And because of that, we will be fine.”