Playoff game rescheduled for Jewish basketball team that refused to play on Sabbath

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN) – A Jewish high school basketball team that had opted out of a shot at a Texas state championship because it refused to play on the Sabbath will now get that shot, after a playoff game was rescheduled on Thursday.

The game, initially set for Friday night, after the Jewish Sabbath begins, has been rescheduled for Friday afternoon, Houston’s Robert M. Beren Academy announced Thursday.

The Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) made the scheduling change after parents threatened a lawsuit, the Orthodox Jewish private school said in a statement.

TAPPS director Edd Burleson said the league was presented with a temporary restraining order parents of the players intended to file if the game time was not changed.
"Our board had predetermined if a restraining order came down, we would comply with it," Burleson told CNN.

The decision allows the Beren Stars “to play this Friday without violating our Sabbath,” the school’s statement said. “We are thankful to the TAPPS for ultimately making the right decision.”

Burleson also said the league would be able to accommodate Beren Academy should they advance to the finals by scheduling the championship game on Saturday after 8pm.

"I don't know it's sunk in yet, we're excited,” Beren coach Chris Cole said.  “This is something we've obviously been fighting for. This isn't the way we wanted it to happen. We were hoping TAPPS would accommodate us in a way that was willing," as opposed to the threat of a lawsuit, he said.

Cole said his team was thrilled to able to play. "They're kids, there is great excitement," he said, noting the texts were pouring in from his team.

Cole, a Christian who attends a nondenominational church, has coached the team for 10 years in addition to teaching physical education at the school. He said observance of the Sabbath is key for the school and the team.

"Just being a modern Orthodox Jewish school, it's important."

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"The Sabbath is a time for prayer and work. Although we play basketball and do our best, we know that it’s not the time for games," he said. "It was never a possibility that we would just skip the Sabbath and just play the game," the coach said. "It just wasn't going to happen."

Until Thursday’s announcement, the Stars were planning on sitting out the Friday night game. The school observes the weekly Jewish day of rest, called Shabbat, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

"You get put in adversity and the way you handle things says a lot about your character. So this is an opportunity to show our character," Cole told CNN Houston affiliate KPRC earlier this week.

"If we give up this opportunity for our religion it just shows how much we deeply care for it," Isaac Buchine, a player on the Beren Stars, told KPRC.

"This is a testament to our school and to Coach Cole for his support and dedication, that, independent of the desire to compete, is the desire to uphold our Jewish values,” the school said in a statement earlier in the week. “We are proud of who we are, and have the courage to act accordingly."

By Wednesday, more than 5,000 people had signed an online petition, supported by the school, to move the Beren Stars’ semifinal game to an earlier time on Friday.

School officials had appealed to the league to find another time for the game, but the league said in a statement Wednesday the appeal was unanimously voted down by the league's nine-member board.

The Jewish observance of the Sabbath comes from the book of Genesis. In the week-long creation story, God creates the world, and all that is in it, in six days. After seeing that it is "very good," God rests on the seventh day.

How Jews practice that rest varies, but in Orthodox sects, it often means no working, driving or cooking. Many observant Jews also attend religious services on Shabbat.

Observance of the Sabbath can pose a challenge for observant Jews living in a culture on a different timetable.

Yuri Foreman , a champion boxer and rabbi in training, postponed a major fight in 2010 because it fell on a Saturday night. He took the ring once the sun went down.

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U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, has been known to walk miles to his Washington home when votes on the Senate floor run into Friday night.

Lieberman wrote a book about Shabbat and told CNN's Belief Blog last year the stringent rules around the observation serve an important part in preservation of the Jewish faith.

Founded in the late 1970s, the TAPPS league is made up of 220 schools. In a statement posted on its website by the TAPPS executive board, the league said at the time of its organization, no member schools observed the Sabbath on Saturday. At the same time, the bylaws forbid games on Sunday, a nod to Christian Sabbath observance.

The league statement also said Beren Academy first met with league officials in June 2009 to discuss joining TAPPS.

"At that time, the Board pointed out that TAPPS schedules its team sports championship on Fridays and Saturdays, which would conflict with Beren’s observation of their Sabbath,” the statement said. “The Board pointed out that the posted schedule for the state tournament would be followed and no changes made, unless weather related or similar conditions existed."

Read the original article at CNN Belief Blog  2012-03-02 »

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