Public pressure from the likes of former Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, and state representatives Rodney Ellis and Dan Patrick couldn’t get the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools to back down from its decision not to allow Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Houston, to move a playoff basketball game scheduled for after sundown Friday, which falls during the Jewish Sabbath.
The TAPPS executive board had even taken a second vote on the matter Wednesday, complete with an official statement (PDF), digging in their heels.
But a mere request for a temporary restraining order, filed not by the school, but several players and their parents, got results, as Steve Campbell of the Houston Chronicle reported. Instead of playing Friday night in Mansfield, Beren and Dallas Convenant will tip off at 2 p.m. today in Fort Worth.
Initially, TAPPS posted the following statement on its website:
It was later replaced with the following explanation:
This morning, an attorney sent TAPPS a copy of a Temporary Restraining Order, and other documents, on behalf of persons who had an interest in Beren Academy. He stated that he was prepared to file these documents with the appropriate District Judge. The TRO was not filed, since TAPPS agreed to allow Beren Academy to compete in the State Tournament, rather than have the tournament delayed by a court hearing.
The attorneys representing both parties agreed that the TRO would not be filed as long as Beren Academy could participate in the tournament, while honoring their Sabbath.
“Unlike many people TAPPS does follow the law, and we will comply,” TAPPS athletic director Edd Burleson told Campbell.
The legal filing, which can be read in full below, argued that:
The concerted actions of TAPPS and [game host Mansfield]ISD (a) burden and interfere with thesincere religious beliefs and observances of Beren and its students and the sincere religious beliefs and observances of current and future students of the Burton Adventist Academy, (b) prefer Sunday-observing religions and religious beliefs over Saturday-observing religions, and(c) violate TAPPS’s own rules and regulations.
“After basically maintaining all week that it would be a major inconvenience to reschedule the game, TAPPS managed to do so in a matter of hours on Thursday,” wrote Chronicle sports columnist Jerome Solomon, who authored four blog posts and one column about the issue. Still, he was grateful saner heads prevailed, for sports reasons as much as religious reasons:
There are many things I desire from sport, but at the top of the list are fairness of competition and a deserving winner.
Without Beren Academy, the TAPPS 2A championship would not have been a fair competition. The eventual winner might have been deserving, but we would have never known how deserving if Beren had been erased from the tournament because of scheduling.
One player’s father who was not part of the suit told Matt Samuels of the Jewish Herald Voice that he had mixed emotions. “I’m glad they will get to play, but I wish it would have been because TAPPS wanted to make the change,” Walter Katz said. “It’s kind of sad that it had to come to a lawsuit.”
The school itself expressed similar sentiments in its statement, noting that “the school administration and board was not involved in any legal action and we regret that it took a law suit filed parents to bring about this decision.”
Rabbi Harry Sinoff, Beren Academy’s head, also told Campbell, “We’re disappointed that TAPPS didn’t use this occasion to make a statement of inclusion.”
Saturday’s championship game is still scheduled for 2 p.m. in Mansfield. Should Beren win, it will be moved to 8 p.m.
Below, the Beren families’ filing: