Houston Jewish school’s magical season comes to an end

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Associated Press & WFAA-TV

Posted on March 4, 2012 at 11:40 AM

Updated Sunday, Mar 4 at 12:15 PM

FORT WORTH, Texas -- The boys basketball team from an Orthodox Jewish school in Houston fell just short in its championship run after a semifinal game was rescheduled to not conflict with the Sabbath.

Beren Academy lost 46-42 to Abilene Christian in the championship Saturday night.

Beren’s semifinal originally was set for Friday night. Beren students say their faith prohibits participation between sunset Friday and sunset Saturday.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, had initially rejected Beren Academy’s requests to reschedule. But several parents filed a lawsuit seeking to force TAPPS to reschedule the semifinal. TAPPS relented and changed the time to Friday afternoon.

The lawsuit caught Beren officials off guard. Headmaster Harry Sinoff and coach Chris Cole only learned of the suit on Thursday morning, and both said they 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."

The complaint argued that the team was "being denied, solely on account of their religious observance, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete." It called the tournament "an irreplaceable opportunity" and said depriving Beren the chance to play represented "irreparable harm ... because of their Jewish religious beliefs and observances."

Burleson said that association bylaws prevented TAPPS from moving the game time. Beren, a TAPPS member since 2011, advanced to the semifinals by beating Kerrville Our Lady of the Hills last week.

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."

The dispute generated national media attention, and Cole joked about the need to close Thursday's practice to the media, a common practice among college and professional teams. But he also displayed frustration that the ordeal dragged on for a week.

"I feel like if (the decision) could've been done on Thursday, then it could've been done on Monday," Cole said.

The Beren controversy came a year after another Orthodox Jewish school, the Texas Torah Institute of Dallas, competed for the 2A championship of a different state athletic league, the Texas Christian Athletic Association. That game was moved from Saturday afternoon to Saturday night through an agreement worked out by the association and the institute's opponent, Allen Academy of Bryan.

Allen, coached by former Baylor coach Dave Bliss, won the game, which ended around 11 p.m.

Bliss said Thursday that, while his school wasn't excited about playing late into the night, moving the game to accommodate the Dallas Jewish school was the only logical option.

"I didn't even think of doing anything different," he said.

 

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