Sunday, February 24, 2008

Florida High School Athletic Association Succeeds in Discrimination Against Shomer Shabbat Teen


I tried so hard to get everyone to write and call about this situation. I wrote, I called. I don’t know if anyone else did. I guess it seemed to small, too insignificant for most people to take five minutes out of there day to pay attention to this.

However, I don’t think it is small or insignificant. This is 2008, and a Florida Athletic Association won’t make a small accommodation for a Jew.

How many Jews are in Florida? How many pay the taxes that pay the salaries of these bozos?

That’s not significant?

Observance of Sabbath costs Yeshiva athlete shot at title
Palm Beach Post Staff Writers
Saturday, February 23, 2008

LAKELAND — Despite tying for first place in the semifinals of the Queen of the Hill three-point shooting competition Friday, Bassie Orzechowitz won't be competing in today's finals.

That's because Orzechowitz, a senior at Weinbaum Yeshiva High School in Boca Raton, will be observing the Jewish Sabbath. The basketball competition begins at 6:15 p.m., and the Sabbath ends at sundown - 6:18 p.m. Orzechowitz is staying 45 minutes away from the Lakeland Center and won't be able to make it to the arena in time.

Jack Watford, associate director of the Florida High School Athletic Association, would not change the time of today's all-classification championship to accommodate Orzechowitz.

"We did not feel it was appropriate," he said when asked whether he considered asking the other competitors about a time change.

Sarasota Christian's Heather Miller and Orzechowitz each made 5-of-15 three-point baskets in the Class 1A semifinals. Orzechowitz was allowed to shoot Friday afternoon before leaving the gym to prepare for the Sabbath, which began at sundown. Miller later tied her.

FHSAA rules call for a tiebreaker to determine the winner, but because Orzechowitz was not present, the association declared the girls co-champions. Both will receive championship plaques.

Watford said he left a message on Orzechowitz's cellphone informing her of the decision, but she observes rules that prevent her from using the phone during the Sabbath. She left the Lakeland Center on Friday knowing that if she won the semifinals, the FHSAA likely would not alter the time.

She had pleaded with the association to alter its time for the three-point shooting competition. Yeshiva High asked the FHSAA to hold the competition after the Class 6A state championship game, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.

Orzechowitz also suggested that she shoot after the 6A championship game. Watford did not agree with that idea.

"We don't feel that would be fair to the other girls who have to compete in a loud arena where fans are there," he said. "She would be able to shoot in an empty gym by herself."

Instead, Miller will compete today with the five champions from the other classifications.

"All we asked is for them to move it a couple of hours," Orzechowitz said after her afternoon performance. "There's a lot of options, and they refused to compromise. I won't compromise my religion to play."

She was visibly disappointed after hitting only a third of her three-point attempts. She sat on the sidelines with her head in her jersey.

"I've been attacked by so many people, getting phone calls from all over. It's been a total shock," she said. "If we all get this far, we all deserve to have a chance."

Melissa Pereira, who oversees athletics at Yeshiva High, said she did not understand the FHSAA's decision.

"They have a basketball game going on from 7 o'clock until 8:30, and it's not really going out of their way to ask this three-point shootout to occur after the basketball game," Pereira said. "It is unfortunate that they have decided to make a stance and to not allow this 17- year-old girl the opportunity to be the state champion."

Pereira said Yeshiva High has worked with the FHSAA in the past, including a compromise that allowed boys basketball players to wear yarmulkes with built-in clips.

But she said the decision not to push back the three-point competition has larger ramifications.

"It's bigger than this one student," Pereira said. "What happens if one of our teams advances to the regional or state playoffs? I can't imagine how devastating it would be for a team not to be able to participate. But again they would put religion first."

Through the years, religion often has clashed with sports. Two of the most famous examples were in baseball.

In 1934, Hank Greenberg, known as "the Jewish Babe Ruth," decided to play on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year and first of the High Holy Days. Rabbis interviewed by Detroit newspapers differed in their reactions.

With Greenberg's help, the Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees 2-1.

In 1965, Sandy Koufax refused to pitch the first game of the World Series on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and the most sacred of all Jewish holy days. Many Jews, sports fans or otherwise, point proudly to Koufax's acting on his convictions.

Don Drysdale replaced Koufax on the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who lost 8-2 to the Minnesota Twins.

When manager Walter Alston pulled Drysdale from the game, the pitcher reportedly joked, "I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too."

Religion won the day when Eric Liddell, a talented British sprinter who also was a Christian missionary, dropped out of his best event, the 100-meter dash, because it was scheduled on a Sunday during the 1924 Olympics. That decision was the inspiration for the 1981 Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire.

FHSAA rules prohibit any high school sports activity, including practices, on Sundays. Executive Director John Stewart said it was completely coincidental that Sunday is the Sabbath for most Christians.

Even if Orzechowitz does not become Queen of the Hill, her performance in the three-point contest has been a crowning moment for Yeshiva High's girls basketball team. The Storm finished 14-6 this season and won a national tournament for Hebrew schools.

The 198-student private school, founded 11 years ago in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Boca Raton, follows the practices of Orthodox Judaism, including religious practices for food preparation, prayers and other daily activities. Even candy bars in the school's vending machines carry the kosher symbol.

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