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State Semifinal Rescheduled for Jewish Team's Sabbath


The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) was served a temporary restraining order today by a Texas court that requires the Robert M. Beren Academy to be included in the semifinals of its state basketball tournament this coming weekend.

The boys' basketball team at Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Houston, advanced to the state semifinals last weekend by virtue of a 27-point win over Our Lady of the Hills Catholic High School.

The only problem: The team's state semifinal matchup was scheduled for 9 p.m. this coming Frida, a direct conflict with the school's and players' observation of the Sabbath.

The school immediately appealed to TAPPS last Friday, asking that it change the game time of the team's semifinal matchup, but TAPPS denied the appeal on Monday. If Beren Academy wouldn't play at the 9 p.m. time slot on Friday, Our Lady of the Hills School would take its place, the TAPPS executive board ruled.

When TAPPS was formed in the late 1970s, all member schools at the time recognized Sunday as the Sabbath, according to the organization. When Beren Academy joined TAPPS in summer 2009, its athletic director met with the organization's executive board, which pointed out that championships were scheduled on Fridays and Saturdays.

Despite the conflict with the Jewish Sabbath, the board told Beren's athletic director that the Friday/Saturday championship schedule would not be changed unless it was for weather or similar factors.

"The athletic director stated that he understood and did not see that as a problem, since he just wanted their players to have an opportunity to play in a 'district,' " a statement from TAPPS reads.

The organization revisited its decision on Wednesday, according to the Houston Chronicle, but unanimously decided to hold firm on its decision not to alter the schedule.

"If we solve one problem, we create another problem," said Edd Burleson, the director of TAPPS, to the New York Times.

"If the schools are just going to arrange their own schedule, why do we even set a tournament?" Burleson said to the paper. "Over a period of time, our state tournament, which is a highlight of our association, deteriorates to nothing. That's the whole point of having an organization."

Feeling the Heat

As the Chronicle noted, a number of big names had been rallying behind Beren Academy this week, including former Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy and Houston Mayor Annise D. Parker.

Lo and behold, their support—and the TRO—appears to have made an impact.

At noon today, Beren Academy posted a statement on its website thanking TAPPS for deciding to reschedule the semifinal games on Friday to allow for Beren's inclusion.

All three of the other schools participating in the semifinals agreed to reschedule their games this coming weekend, Samantha Steinberg, director of admissions and marketing at Beren Academy, told the New York Times.

Beren Academy also extended special thanks to the Our Lady of the Hills School for helping to accommodate a schedule change for the regional finals matchup last week. Beren had also rescheduled another one of their earlier playoff matchups to avoid any conflicts with their observation of the Jewish Sabbath.

Making a schedule accommodation for Beren very well may open Pandora's Box in terms of scheduling requests from other member schools.

But given that all three other schools involved in this weekend's tournament expressed a willingness to reschedule, and the growing national attention this story was attracting, TAPPS didn't appear to have much of a choice here.

On Thursday afternoon, TAPPS posted on its website that Beren Academy's game had been re-scheduled to tip off at 2 p.m. Eastern on Friday.

UPDATE (Mar. 5, 3:00 p.m.): Beren Academy's run to the state championship fell one game short this past weekend, as they lost 46-42 to Abilene Christian in the state title game, according to an ESPN.com report.

Beren, down 12 at one point in the championship game, whittled Abilene Christian's lead to two points in the final minute but couldn't get any closer, according to ESPN.

Photo: Robert M. Beren Academy basketball player Hersh Bootin, left, tries to steal from teammate Isaac Buchine during basketball practice earlier this week in Houston. (Mayra Beltran/Houston Chronicle/AP)

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