UPDATE: (1 March 2012) Beren Academy gets shot at state title after all
UPDATE: (2 March 2012) Jewish school wins playoff game reset for Friday
UPDATE: (3 March 2012) Beren Academy’s dream season comes to end in championship game
There are 58 teams in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) 2A Division. 51 of them are of various Christian denominations (over 40 either have the word “Christian” or the name of their denomination in the name of their school). Six of them are secular. And one of them is the Robert M. Beren Academy, “a modern Orthodox Jewish day school affiliated with Yeshiva University, providing a comprehensive Judaic and college preparatory education” in Houston.
Not on MY Sabbath!
According to its Constitution, one of the purposes of TAPPS is to “organize … athletic … programs in an effort to foster a spirit of fair play, good fellowship, true sportsmanship and wholesome competition for boys and girls.” But apparently this only applies if you observe the Sabbath on Sunday (according to the TAPPS calendar, no activities are ever scheduled on Sundays).
Arlington Burton Adventist Academy, a TAPPS 3A school, learned that lesson the hard way when their boys soccer team made it to the state semifinals last year. As Seventh-Day Adventists, Burton students celebrate the Sabbath from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. Had they won their semifinal game, they would have been scheduled to play their final Saturday afternoon. Fortunately for them, two of the other three semifinalists were from their own District and were willing to accommodate a schedule change to a Saturday night game in the event that they won (unfortunately for them not only did they not win their semifinal, but they also had to pay to reserve the second venue – from their perspective a small price to pay).
And what of tiny Beren, with only 67 students? Their boys basketball team has managed to have a 23-5 season so far this year. But, alas, TAPPS is unwilling to further accommodate them (two games have already been moved) by moving the semifinal game to a time other than 9 p.m. this coming Friday night (March 2, 2012). In fact, in his emailed response to their request to move the semifinal game, TAPPS Director Edd Burleson not only cited Section 138 of the TAPPS Bylaws on scheduling…
At the time of district certification, the district president shall certify all schools that will participate in the playoffs. Upon qualifying for the playoffs, schools must notify the TAPPS office in writing if their team will not participate in all playoff games in which they qualify as scheduled by TAPPS. If for any reason, the team cannot follow the schedule as provided by TAPPS the school shall remove itself from the playoffs without penalty so that the next highest ranked team may represent the district in the playoffs.
…he also reminded them that they had been warned about Friday and Saturday tournament games before joining TAPPS in the first place:
“You agreed at the time that this could be a problem for your school, however, the school leadership wished to pursue membership in TAPPS,” Burleson wrote in the email. “With this understanding, the Board approved Beren Academy for membership.”
Who Else Has Been Warned?
Apparently Mr. Burleson’s bullying didn’t start with Beren. Back in 2004, Darul Arqam, a parochial school serving the Muslim community in Texas, attempted to join TAPPS to allow their (then) 19 high school students to compete in the fine arts and athletics events offered. Mr. Burleson replied with a letter which included the following questions he expected Darul Arqam to answer before membership could be granted:
“Why do you wish to join an organization whose membership is basically in total disagreement with your religious beliefs?”
“Why do you think that the current member schools of TAPPS will not be biased against your school, based on the fundamental difference in your religion and Christianity, since about 90% of TAPPS schools embrace Christianity?”
“Do you teach your students to ‘Make war on them (Christians and Jews) until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion reigns supreme’ (Koran 8:37)?”
Not surprisingly, Darul Arqam is not currently a member of TAPPS.
Beren 1, Burleson 0
Despite being the director of an association of private and parochial schools (For the record, Webster defines parochial as “a private school maintained by a religious body usually for elementary and secondary instruction”. Notice there is no mention of any particular religion.), Edd Burleson has so far managed to alienate Muslims, Seventh-Day Adventists and Orthodox Jews. And all in the name of…Edd Burleson. His actions have certainly done nothing to “foster a spirit of fair play, good fellowship, true sportsmanship and wholesome competition”.
But, surprisingly, the young men of Beren and their coach have nothing negative to say about TAPPS or Mr. Burleson:
“It’s disappointing. I’ve been here 10 years and I’ve always known where our priorities lie,” said Chris Cole, Beren’s basketball coach and athletic director. “We were hopeful and optimistic going in that we could be able to do both — adhere to the religious beliefs here and play basketball.”
“It’s not frustrating. It’s a little disappointing,” said Isaac Mirwis, Beren’s point guard. “We worked hard this entire season and our goal was to get to the state championship and win the state championship. So, it’s disappointing that we don’t get that opportunity, but definitely not frustrated with anybody because honestly we can’t really take that out on any one person.”
“We were hopeful that they would be able to work with us, but we respect their decision,” Cole said. “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.”
So to the faculty and staff of Robert M. Beren Academy I say: “Congratulations!” You could not have hoped for a better result in light of Mr. Burleson’s actions. Not only has your school produced a competitive basketball team, but also a faithful and respectful group of young men. And to Mr. Edd Burleson, well, the time has come for you to either recognize that there is more than one Sabbath (and a much broader definition of “parochial”) or for you to move on and make room for someone who can.