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Orthodox Jewish high school team forfeits rather than play state semifinal on Sabbath

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

An Orthodox Jewish high school in Texas is forfeiting a chance at a state tournament run after the most successful regular season in school history because times for playoff games conflicted with its worship of the Jewish Sabbath.

As reported by the Houston Chronicle and the New York Times, among other outlets, the Houston (Texas) Beren Academy boys basketball team announced on Monday that it would forfeit the Stars' scheduled state semifinal game in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Class 2A state tournament because its scheduled game time conflicts with the Jewish Sabbath.

As scheduled, Beren was set to face off against Dallas (Texas) Covenant School at 9 p.m. on Friday, after sundown to begin the Sabbath. Beren officials filed an official appeal of the game time with the TAPPS state office , but that motion was denied, leaving Covenant to face off against Kerrville (Texas) Our Lady of the Hills School in the semifinal in Beren Academy's stead.

For their part, Dallas Covenant officials told both their Beren counterparts and the TAPPS state office that they were open to rescheduling the game to a mutually acceptable time for both programs so that Beren could still worship on the Sabbath.

An online petition aimed at getting TAPPS to reconsider changing the game's scheduled time has also been gaining traction since news of Beren's predicament first broke. Those interested can read and sign the petition here.

"It's disappointing. I've been here 10 years and I've always known where our priorities lie," Beren boys basketball coach Chris Cole told the Chronicle. "We were hopeful and optimistic going in that we could be able to do both — adhere to the religious beliefs here and play basketball."

In the end, Beren wasn't quite able to reach that achievement, though no one can say the school didn't pull out all the stops trying to find a way to make it work. The team had already rescheduled two prior playoff games to keep its magical 23-win season alive, playing a first round game against Austin (Texas) Hill Country School at 8 p.m. on a Saturday evening (after Sabbath was officially over) and moving the start time of its third-round game from 7:30 p.m. to noon on Friday.

[Related: Georgia boys basketball team forfeits playoff game over football brawl]

Victories in those matchups set up a shocking semifinal for Beren, a tiny Orthodox Jewish school of just 67 total students in Houston. At 23-5, the 2011-12 campaign finished as unquestionably the best in school history, even if students are now left feeling cheated out of a potential state title game appearance by devotion to the very faith they share.

"We were hopeful that they would be able to work with us, but we respect their decision," Cole told the Chronicle. "It's never happened where we've played during Shabbat, and it will never happen. The kids know that, and the kids are fantastic at understanding."

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