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Originally published Monday, February 27, 2012 at 7:02 PM

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Jewish school's team loses trip to semifinals over Sabbath

A Houston school's appeal to a Texas group to change the game time and allow its boys basketball team to play in the state semifinals was rejected.

New York Times News Service

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The Robert M. Beren Academy, an Orthodox Jewish day school in Houston, won its regional championship to advance to the boys basketball state semifinals this weekend in Dallas. But the team will not make the trip.

The Beren Academy players observe the Sabbath and do not play from sundown Fridays to sundown Saturdays. The semifinal game is scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday.

"The sacred mission will trump excellence in the secular world," Rabbi Harry Sinoff, Beren's head of school, said Monday in a telephone interview.

The school filed an appeal to change the time of the game with the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, the group that organizes the tournament. On Monday morning, representatives at the school were notified that the association's nine-member executive board had rejected the appeal.

"When Beren's joined years ago, we advised them that the Sabbath would present them with a problem with the finals," said Edd Burleson, director of the association. "In the past, TAPPS has held firmly to their rules because if schedules are changed for these schools, it's hard for other schools.

"If we solve one problem, we create another problem."

Membership in the association is voluntary, Burleson noted.

"If the schools are just going to arrange their own schedule, why do we even set a tournament?" Burleson said. "Over a period of time, our state tournament, which is a highlight of our association, deteriorates to nothing. That's the whole point of having an organization."

Conflicts between religious beliefs and scheduling are becoming more commonplace with the nation's changing demographics, said Sarah Barringer Gordon, a professor of law and history at the University of Pennsylvania.

"Some associations are rethinking who their constituencies are," Gordon said. "As pluralism works its way through American sports, we're going to see more and more situations like this one."

Several of Beren Academy's opponents this season agreed to change the time of their games to avoid conflicts with the Sabbath, the school's boys basketball coach, Chris Cole, said.

Cole, the team's coach for 10 years, said many of the players on this season's team, which is 23-5, had been playing together since grade school.

"We have a pretty mature group of guys," Cole said. "They knew this could happen down the road, and when I walk down the halls, they're constantly asking me for an update. Everyone was anxious to find out what would happen, but we're hopeful something can be worked out."

Beren Academy has an enrollment of 274, with students ranging from 18 months to 18 years old. The upper-level school has 71 students.

This would have been Beren Academy's first trip to the state semifinals. Zachary Yoshor, a 16-year-old junior on the basketball team, said this season's success was a result of the players' working together for so long.

"Our record has never been this good," Yoshor said. "We've been able to win against teams that we've never beaten before. I'm appreciative that we've been able to play this far."

The appeal request proposed that the team drive from Houston to Dallas on Thursday evening, spend the night and play the semifinal game earlier on Friday, school officials said. Beren Academy's opponent would have been Covenant School, from Dallas. Our Lady of the Hills, the team from Kerrville that Beren Academy defeated in the regional final, will replace Beren Academy in the state semifinal game.

"There isn't any more for us to do," Sinoff said. "We want to be in this year, but if not this year, next year."

Mark Buchine, whose 17-year-old son, Isaac, plays for Beren Academy, said he still planned to head to Dallas with hopes of a resolution that would allow him to see his son play this weekend.

"It's disappointing," Buchine said. "I think the kids will be disappointed, too, but the team has this attitude of when there are bad calls, you just move on."

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