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Sunday, March 24, 2019

The ball passes through the net for a buzzer beater tournament victory. The team and fellow students rush the court as the defeated players hang their heads in anguish. The victory is the culmination of a season of preparation. The game is watched live from coast to coast and in many foreign countries. Is this March Madness? In some respect it is, with a Jewish twist... winning the Yeshiva University Sarachek Tournament is the crown jewel of Yeshiva tournaments.

Following the end of the regular basketball season and often coinciding with the month of Adar, Yeshiva University office of admissions hosts the country’s most prestigious tournament for Jewish boys’ high school basketball teams. Each year, hundreds of student-athletes and their fans from schools across the United States and Canada gather at Yeshiva University for four days of top-level competition and community-wide event. This week marks the 28th year of the tournament named after Bernard “Red” Sarachek, the legendary YU men’s basketball coach.

Tournaments over the last 40 years have proliferated. Many local yeshiva high schools host them during the regular basketball season. Flatbush, Magen David, HAFTR are some of the more well-known ones. Each November, the Cooper Invitational hosts 15 varsity boys’ teams in Memphis, Tennessee. Simultaneously, the Glouberman Tournament hosts nine boys teams and 10 girls teams in Los Angeles, California. These “out of town” tournaments often last four days and include a shabbaton for the visiting athletes hosted by the local community.

Student athletes need to take off school time to attend. The costs involve airfare, meals, local transportation and paying for chaperones. The total cost for a team of 15 players, coaches and chaperones could be over $7,000. Is it worth it? Who really benefits? While tournaments are common practice in the secular world is it something to be embraced by yeshiva high schools or is it bitul zman?

There are many well documented benefits to participating in team sports. Developing self-esteem, learning leadership skills, practicing teamwork, building strong relationships, learning to communicate, teaching respect and time management skills are some of the benefits. Tournaments are designed to test these skills in an accelerated environment. Players are given the unique opportunity to meet and get to know the players they compete against. Tournaments that include a shabbaton emphasize the balance of priorities for young Jewish athletes by including Torah classes, minyanim and motivational speakers. Exposure to the hospitality of out of town communities benefits not only the participants but gives the host city a chance to make a positive impression on life outside of the tri-metropolitan area.

The average varsity athlete, through their parents support and their school’s participation has spent thousands of hours practicing and competing in school leagues, recreational leagues, summer leagues and basketball camps. Not every team will win a league or tournament championship but everyone shares the desire for a chance at being on the court for that thrill of victory. High school, for most, is the last shot at experiencing the thrill of a championship. The competitive team spirit and sharing it with others is an invaluable memory that will stay with the participants for years to come.

A core value in Judaism is chaverim kol yisrael. Everyone wherever they are and whatever they do should try to incorporate this into their lives. Unity is not just about hosting a shul kiddush or about agreeing religiously, politically or otherwise. It’s about being able to disagree or compete with someone, and yet still wanting the best for them, desiring their joy and seeking to alleviate their pain. Tournaments bring young Jewish adults into an environment of competition with other Jewish athletes from different schools. Win or lose we all need to be chaveirim. That is a wonderful message and value to instill in the leaders of tomorrow. Having the opportunity to participate in tournaments like Sarachek, promote the value of common goals and unity and is a lesson that will last with these young athletes forever.

By Etan Mirwis