Mark Kellner, Adventist Review
More than a decade of dogged persistence by a Seventh-day Adventist academy in Fort Worth, Texas, United States, may have helped another parochial school – this time an Orthodox Jewish institution – gain a tournament rescheduling to move a game away from the biblical Sabbath, which both Jews and Adventists observe.
Facing a federal lawsuit filed by three parents and three students at the Houston school, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) said it would relent and reschedule a semi-final game away from Sabbath hours. That would allow students from the Robert M. Beren Academy, the Orthodox Jewish school, to compete.
The lawsuit, which included the Mansfield (Texas) Independent School District, slated to host the competition, alleged religious discrimination on the defendant’s part, which is prohibited under civil rights laws.
Annise Parker, Houston’s mayor, and United States Senator John Cornyn, were among those who called on TAPPS to make an accommodation, media reports indicated.
“Unlike many people, TAPPS does follow the law, and we will comply,” TAPPS Executive Director Edd Burleson told the Houston Chronicle, which was among several national media outlets that covered the story, along with ESPN.com and The New York Times.
The Sabbath question was one Burleson had faced before, beginning in 2001. That’s when Burton Adventist Academy, located in Arlington, Texas, a Fort Worth suburb, had “a really good basketball team,” school athletic director Kevin Klein recalled.
Even though the Burton team had a 17-3 season, and won the agreement of the other schools slated for that year’s playoffs, TAPPS was adamant: the rules were the rules, and unless the Burton team played, they’d forfeit the game. The school stood its ground, which must have disappointed the students.
The same thing happened in 2004, he added. The school had a great year, was playoff bound, but their hoop dreams were dashed by TAPPS, despite support in the community and from local media.
“The kids deserve whatever they earned,” Klein explained in a telephone interview with Adventist Review. “If they earned the chance to play for a state championship, let them play for it.”
By 2010’s fall soccer season, however, there was a crack in the TAPPS wall: if Burton Adventist Academy would secure, and pay for, an alternate venue for the soccer final previously scheduled for the Sabbath, TAPPS would accommodate them. The school complied, but the team lost its semi-final match, keeping them from the championship game.
Klein and the school saw it as a victory: here was an opening for Sabbath-keepers to compete with other private and parochial schools, while remaining true to their beliefs. A similar situation happened in 2011 with Burton’s basketball team: the school made arrangements to cover rescheduling expenses, but lost a semifinal match.
Still, the growing momentum for Burton’s students, now joined by national attention to the Beren Academy’s case, may lead to a real change by TAPPS leadership.
“Our team having that opportunity really was a key part of this,” Klein said, before departing to watch the Beren team play a pre-Sabbath game. “I’m just thrilled that it happened.”
Beren’s coach Chris Cole agreed: “All we asked for was a chance and we got it,” he told ESPN.com.