It’s certainly not every day that a TAPPS 2A basketball championship game makes ESPN.com’s home page.
But with all of the publicity about Houston Orthodox Jewish day school Beren Academy’s fight to get the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools to reschedule games around the Jewish Sabbath, that’s exactly where Randy Jennings of ESPNDallas.com‘s story was for part of Sunday.
Alas, the heroes of this Texas sports story did not win its last game. Instead, a defensively stout Abilene Christian team made four key free throws in the final 22.2 seconds to beat Beren, 46-42.
Given all it took to simply play the game, it’s fair to say the Beren players were still happy just to be there.
“These are tears of happiness and sadness,” Beren guard Isaac Mirwis, one of the three players whose family considered legal action against TAPPS, told Jennings. “I’m happy that we got the chance and that I was able to stay true to myself and my beliefs. I’m happy TAPPS gave us the chance. It was a tough loss, but Abilene Christian was a heck of a team.”
As the Houston Chronicle‘s Steve Campbell reported, game day was a whirlwind for the Stars, since the Jewish Sabbath doesn’t end until the sun goes down. The team did not get to the gym at Fort Worth’s Nolan Catholic High School until 31 minutes before the 8 p.m. tipoff, which had been moved from 2 p.m.
“We had our chance,” Beren coach Chris Cole told Campbell. “The week was crazy. But in the end, I’m not going to say that had anything to do with it. We got our chance on the court.”
“We feel this was a success,” Beren head of school Rabbi Harry Sinoff said. “We got to compete in a basketball game, but the whole experience for the school was really remarkable. It brought the community together. Sometimes you don’t have an event like this to do that. We’re not pioneers. We just thought it was right for us to play. It was good for basketball.”
And how about a moment of recognition for Abilene Christian? Not only did the Panthers add a state basketball title to the TAPPS six-man Division I football championship they won this past December, but, as Joey D. Richards of the Abilene Reporter-News wrote, they did it with a 22-year-old rookie coach who was still a student at the school four years ago–Michael Bacon, class of 2008, is still just a senior at Abilene Christian University.
Some Panthers fans felt that their team’s been overlooked, even by the hometown paper, but there’s a reason that the Beren story captured everyone’s imagination: it’s fundamental to sports that the best teams ought to get their chance to play.
And then you had the whiff of religious discrimination on top of that. As Tully Corcoran of Fox Sports Houston argued, with more bluntness than most writers were willing to attempt:
The TAPPS situation has been universally classified as “controversial,” but that word implies a high level of disagreement over who was right and who was wrong. That wasn’t the case. The other schools in the tournament and the general populace were overwhelmingly supportive of Beren. Practically nobody thought what TAPPS had done was right, or even defensible.
To most people, TAPPS executive director Edd Burleson and the TAPPS board came off as rubber-stamping troglodytes without the ability to think critically or solve problems or, at worst, bigots. TAPPS appeared to exist in total oblivion. It appeared it wanted to exist in total oblivion, behind walls fortified by 40-year-old bylaws. Some place where the New Idea Monsters couldn’t get them.
The facts of the case make it look like TAPPS, which comprised all Christian schools in its beginning, was starting to get awfully uncomfortable with the possibility of a Jewish school winning its championship, and saw an opportunity to stop that. TAPPS schedules around the Christian day of worship (Sunday), made an identical scheduling exception for a Seventh-Day Adventist soccer team just last year and allowed Beren to reschedule earlier playoff games around the Sabbath.
Such rhetoric might seem uncalled for were it not for the fact that TAPPS has a troubled past with Muslim and Islamic schools. As the Chronicle‘s David Barron reported Friday:
In 2004, a national Islamic organization demanded an apology from Burleson, saying he took an “alarmingly intolerant and hostile attitude toward Islam and Muslims” in a letter to officials at a Houston school seeking TAPPS membership.
“Why do you wish to join an organization whose membership is basically in total disagreement with your religious beliefs?” TAPPS athletic director Edd Burleson asked in the letter.
Mary Pilon of the New York Times wrote about a much more recent incident (which was also reported last January by Jennifer R. Lloyd of the San Antonio Express-News): in 2010, Imam Academy SW, an Islamic school in Houston, received a questionnaire along with its application for TAPPS membership that asked similar questions.
According to Brian Yager of San Antonio’s multi-denominational Keystone School, TAPPS also sent a survey to its membership, asking if it was “in the best interest of Tapps to accept Islamic schools for membership.” Of 220 schools, 83 replied, and, according to Pilon:
37 percent of respondents felt that it was in Tapps’s best interest to accept Islamic schools, and 63 percent said it was not, Yager said. Ten schools said they would leave Tapps if a majority said yes to admitting an Islamic school; one school said it would leave Tapps if the majority said no.
As the Chronicle‘s Barron noted, TAPPS has at least two Jewish schools and two Adventist schools, while at least 75 TAPPS members “have the word “Christian” in their school name or website address, and another 60 have denominational names or references to Christian church saints in their names.”
Barron also observed that TAPPS’ annual meeting, which is usually “routine and poorly attended,” just might be more interesting this June.