Though they fell short at the end, the boys of Beren Academy had a remarkable and unforgettable basketball season, and I congratulate them.
They rested. They reflected. And once the sun set on the Jewish Sabbath, the Beren Academy Stars rushed to Nolan Catholic High to play the biggest basketball game of their lives.
The only thing promised the Stars was opportunity granted better late than never. Given the chance to measure themselves in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools Class 2A state championship game, the Stars came up short 46-42 against Abilene Christian on Saturday night at Hartnett Arena.
Two days after TAPPS amended the schedule to work around the Sabbath, the Stars couldn’t shake loose from a relentless Panthers defense. Senior guard Daniel Austin scored 10 points in the first nine minutes after halftime, allowing the Panthers to pull away from a 19-19 stalemate. Austin scored all 14 points of his points in the second half for the Panthers, who also got 14 from guard Ben George. All-tournament selections Zach Yoshor and Isaac Mirwis had 15 points apiece for the Stars (24-6).
Beren’s belated admission into the proceedings drew attention national attention, with a religious discrimination lawsuit filed by three players and three parents convincing TAPPS to revisit the matter. Stars senior point guard Isaac Mirwis noted after the semifinals that it would be different Sabbath than most, but that was to be expected: “It’s not a normal weekend.”
There’s an understatement. A quick review of how they got here:
The quest of Beren to get a chance to participate had drawn the attention of an array of public figures and politicians ranging from Mayor Annise Parker to former Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.
State Sens. Rodney Ellis and Dan Patrick had begun a bipartisan effort Thursday to pressure TAPPS into making accommodations. State Rep. Al Green was at Nolan on Friday without his trademark “God is good” lapel pin, having given it to one of Mirwis’ sisters.
“They’re representing more than Houston, Texas,” Green said. “They sort of represent the spirit of what this is all about. That is, children having the opportunity to compete and to excel. But more important, just having the opportunity to be the part of an organized effort. I’m proud that they were able to overcome one additional obstacle.
“And in doing this, it really represents the notion that you should never give up. You should always believe that if your cause is righteous and just, you will receive a just conclusion. And I think this is a just conclusion.”
Three parents and three players forced the issue with TAPPS by filing a lawsuit Thursday in district court. One of the parents was Etan Mirwis, whose son, Isaac, scored six points and dished out an assist during a 2:36 stretch of the fourth quarter after Dallas Covenant had whittled an 18-point lead to 10.
“As a parent, to know your child is given the opportunity to play to be the best, without qualification, period, words can’t explain it,” Etan Mirwis said. “It’s exhilarating.”
My first thought when I heard about this was that Beren knew going in that TAPPS was not going to make accommodations for them, and they agreed to that stipulation. The school and their students have displayed a commendable level of maturity and equanimity throughout this story, which has greatly impressed me. But in the end I was persuaded by Jerome Solomon that this whole thing was a tempest in a teapot that never should have been a problem. There were no logistical or procedural obstacles to reschedule the game – it’s not like they had to work with a TV broadcsat slot, or find a new venue, or pick an unworkable time – and there was no real principle at stake, especially since TAPPS had previously juggled a schedule to accommodate a Seventh Day Adventist school in a soccer playoff. Surely it made the most sense to do what was ultimately done and let the kids who earned the right to keep playing decide the championship on the court. I’m glad that’s how it turned out.