HAFTR wins legends championship in thrilling comeback over Ramaz.
On Memorial Day, May 29, over 400 fans gathered at Basketball City in Manhattan to watch 16 teams compete in the first-ever Yeshiva League Legends Basketball Tournament. The concept was a simple one: relive the glory days. For so many athletes in the Jewish community, athletic stardom begins and ends in high school. Nevertheless, the vivid memories of last-minute heroics, game-winning shots, fumbled opportunities and missed clutch free throws will always linger as players get older and continue to reminisce about those competitive and thrilling high school rivalries. Even if for just one day a year, The Yeshiva League Legends Tournament is an unparalleled opportunity to bring all of that competitive energy and talent back to the forefront, as legendary alumni of 16 different schools join forces to form their alma mater’s all-time “Legends Roster” and return to the hardwood together. Diverse rosters featured legendary players as young as 21 and as old as 40, with many players representing the all-time greats of their respective eras of Yeshiva League play.
Beginning with an exciting preliminary round of three games per team, teams were broken into initial four-team groupings: “Five Towns” (DRS, HAFTR, HANC and Rambam); “New York City” (MTA, North Shore, SAR and Ramaz); “New Jersey” (Frisch, JEC, Kushner and TABC); and “National” (Mesivta Ateres Yaakov, Ida Crown, Valley Torah and YULA). At the end of the preliminary round, three teams, HAFTR, Ramaz and Valley Torah, had each successfully swept through their brackets, beginning the day 3-0.
Seeded 1-16, all teams were then entered into a 16-team opening playoff round, with the initial eight eliminated teams then competing in a separate Tier II playoff. As Tier I play progressed, the semi-finals ultimately began with two competitive match-ups, both featuring well-known regional rivalries. Long-time Five Towns rivals, HAFTR and DRS, faced-off on Court 2, while Manhattan rivals, SAR and Ramaz, faced-off on Court 3. Ultimately, after two hard-fought games, it was HAFTR and Ramaz who advanced into what would quickly became a truly storied and epic championship game. One could not have asked for a better ending.
Down 20-5 with seven minutes left, HAFTR suddenly staged a furious comeback. Down six with just over a minute to play, HAFTR co-captain Elie Mishaan (2000), hit a clutch three to cut the lead in half. The game remained within three points as the final minute played out. With just six seconds left and once again down by three, HAFTR guard Dovi Grosser (2011) dribbled the full length of the court and banked in a running three-point miracle over the outstretched arms of two Ramaz defenders. The desperation, circus-style three-pointer sent the game into a three-minute, thrilling overtime period, which the HAFTR Hawks ultimately won, led by the stellar play of tournament MVP, Shelby Rosenberg (2011). The Tier II championship was won by the HANC Hurricanes, led by a strong effort from Jared Stein (2011) and Benjy Ritholtz (2010).
One of the many unique highlights of the tournament was the customized apparel received by each player. As Ben Hoffer (1999), co-captain of the JEC Thunder, explained, “The tournament team truly ensured that no detail was overlooked. Every single (reversible) jersey was of the highest quality and customized to include the player’s former high school number, the player’s name, their alma mater’s name and the school logo, as well as matching shorts with the Yeshiva League Legends logo. Every player’s apparel was fitted individually, including the long-sleeve, dri-fit warm-up shirt, also customized with players’ last names and numbers. It was simply done to perfection.”
Players also received customized kippot with their school logos, as well as event duffel bags and sports water bottles. Another perk that truly enhanced the event, especially for older players, was the on-site personal trainer (Mitch Stein), massage therapist (Andrew Kahn of the Peaceful Presence Yoga Studio) and physical therapist (Zvi Gutman of Theryon), who were all available to help stretch, massage and assist players with the inevitable aches and soreness throughout such an intensive and lengthy tournament. Rabbi Aryeh Young, the executive director of Our Place and the tournament originator, was quick to praise the entire tournament staff. “Our referees, game scorers, security, medical staff, carnival guys, food production team, photographers and videographers – each and every one of them – they all played such a critical role in helping this event run so smooth and ultimately achieve its purpose of raising significant dollars to assist the youth of Our Place.”
Rabbi Young was also quick to highlight the importance of event co-chairs, Elliot Steinmetz and Rachelle Rosenberg, in ensuring the event’s success. “So many players commented how incredibly smooth and organized the tournament ran, especially in its first year; it simply would have never happened without Elliot and Rachelle. Their constant support, insight and guidance, coupled with Elliot’s unique, panoramic knowledge of Yeshiva League Basketball, brought immediate credibility and tremendous excitement to our very first tournament.”
All-Tournament First-Team members included Zach Dicker (SAR - 2012), Yonatan Kerstein (DRS - 2013), Sammy Merkin (Ramaz - 2015), tournament MVP Shelby Rosenberg (HAFTR - 2011) and Jared Stein (HANC - 2011).
In addition to the unparalleled level of competitive play featuring the Yeshiva League community’s brightest stars, young fans enjoyed a fun-filled children’s carnival with rides, games, popcorn and cotton candy, while adults meandered throughout the seven full-courts all under one roof in the 125,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility, cheering on their favorite father, son, brother, grandson or son-in-law. At 2:00pm, a five-star lavish Memorial Day BBQ lunch was opened for all players and fans. Catered by Graze Smokehouse of Cedarhurst, the scrumptious extravaganza featured delicious BBQ, exclusive smoked meats, top-of-the-line carvings, as well as many other hot and cold stations, in addition to a beautiful sushi bar donated by Eden Wok of New Rochelle.
With so much initial overwhelmingly positive feedback, Our Place is already working diligently on the Second Annual Yeshiva League Legends Tournament to take place next spring. Without wanting to give too much away, event co-chair Elliot Steinmetz explained, “Next year’s event will also feature a separate, half-court, four-on-four tournament, for players ages 37+, and we’re expecting an additional four to eight schools to join the existing full court tournament as well. With more participating teams, we are excited to raise significantly more funds for Our Place’s vital work in our community – ultimately that’s what this tournament is all about!”
Our Place would like to specifically thank its event co-chairs and main event sponsor, Rachelle Rosenberg and Elliot Steinmetz of Rosenberg & Steinmetz PC, as well as the court sponsor, Maurice Levy of High Life LLC, and Daniel Berg of Berg Bites, this year’s Jersey sponsor. Other sponsors included Arbor Realty, Gourmet Glatt, GFI Realty, Ellkay, Klipped Kippahs and Hearing Solutions of Long Island. The Five Towns Jewish Times and The Jewish Link of New Jersey served as exclusive media sponsors for the event.
Our Place would also like to thank the top ten individual fundraisers from over 120 players: Ben Hoffer (JEC - 1999), Jay Nathanson (Rambam - 1999), David Gilboa (Frisch - 2006), Judah Hammer (Rambam - 2001), Jason Eisenman (HANC - 2002), Daniel Berg (Ramaz - 2014), Eric Friedler (HAFTR - 2000), Chaim Katz (YULA - 2007), David Leichtung (DRS - 2005) and Mordy Faber (MTA- 2000).
To learn more about Our Place, and its many different services and centers benefiting at-risk youth and young adults in recovery, please visit OurPlaceNY.org or contact [email protected]