Houston’s Beren Academy boys’ basketball team beat Kerrville’s Our Lady of the Hills 69-42 in this past weekend’s TAPPS (Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools) 2A tournament quarterfinal, raising its record to 23-5. And yet it is Kerrville that will play again in Friday’s semifinal against Dallas Covenant in Mansfield. 

Beren, an Orthodox Jewish day school affiliated with Yeshiva University, cannot participate in extracurricular activities once the Jewish Sabbath starts at sundown every Friday. The school’s appeal to move the game from a 9 p.m. tip-off was denied by TAPPS’ nine-member executive board. 

“The sacred mission will trump excellence in the secular world,” Rabbi Harry Sinoff, Beren’s head of school, told Mary Pilon of the New York Times, one of several national news outlets to pick up on a story that was first reported by Matt Samuels of the Jewish Herald-Voice.   

The sacred mission is certainly something that the schools of TAPPS, which is separate from the public University Interscholastic League, can understand. As Nicole Stockdale of the Dallas Morning News noted, because of its largely Christian and Catholic membership, the organization’s constitution already prohibits Sunday games. 

As the Herald-Voice‘s Samuels noted, the Southwest Region of the Anti-Defamation League has called on TAPPS to change its policy, “which seems inherently unfair to those who observe the Sabbath on Saturday.” 

And Angel Verdejo of the Houston Chronicle reported that there’s precedent for granting Beren’s appeal, so long as all the other schools agree, and Beren foots the bill. Burlington Burton Adventist Academy was able to work around a similar situation during the 2010 fall soccer semifinals (Seventh-day Adventists also observe the Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday). 

Such accomodations are also not unheard of at the college level. The NCAA basketball tournament does not schedule Sunday games for Brigham Young University, which is a Mormon institution (though it’s also been reported that the school’s no-Sunday policy helped keep it out of the the Big 12 during the recent conference realignment frenzy).

In an email to Beren basketball coach and athletic director Chris Cole, TAPPS athletic direct Ed Burleson said, essentially, that Beren knew what it was getting into when it joined TAPPS two years ago, and that if TAPPS had chosen, it could have barred the school from postseason play entirely, since its manual states that schools which can’t adhere to the schedule “shall remove itself from the playoffs without penalty so that the next highest-ranked team may represent the district in the playoffs.”

But Sinoff told Samuels that he was still hopeful TAPPS might change its mind, especially since the actual schools involved have no objection to the proposed schedule change, which would involve Beren going up to Mansfield Thurday night, and playing early enough on Friday to be finished by sundown.

“We hope that if we can continue to argue our case to them respectfully, they will do the right thing,” Sinoff said. “It’s early enough in the process that it can still be done.” 

However, as Stephen Spiewak of Maxpreps pointed out, Beren has already vanished from TAPPS’ bracket, with Kerrville in its place. 

“By refusing to bend a little to accommodate the religious beliefs of one of its few Jewish schools, TAPPS is missing a great teachable moment and instead harming a bunch of kids who love hoops,” wrote Chris Baldwin of CultureMap Houston.

Cole told Randy Jennings of ESPN Dallas that regardless of the disappointment for himself and his players, he hoped the school would stay a part of TAPPS: 

We’ve enjoyed our time in TAPPS. We play schools that are a lot like us in size. The other schools have been great to work with. They have been respectful of our refusal to play on the Sabbath.

Indeed, as Jennings and the Chronicle‘s Verdejo noted, last week’s quarterfinal game against Our Lady of the Hills had itself been moved, from a 7:30 p.m. start to a noon tip-off.