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The Jewish World Series: Home Run for Unison

The need for such a Shabbat-considerate tournament came up last winter, when the basketball team of Houston’s Beren Academy had reached the semifinals, only to become the center of a national controversy.
Samuel Rosenstein, of Columbus Torah Academy, sliding into home plate.

Samuel Rosenstein, of Columbus Torah Academy, sliding into home plate.

The teams arrived by plane, car and bus. The visiting players were hosted by members of the city’s Orthodox community. They davened on Shabbat in Congregation Torat Emet and before weekday games at the JCC, practiced on the JCC fields and attended classes together with Torah Academy students.

With the financial support of Torah Academy (a raffle brought in some funds), each school’s registration fee was kept down to $1,500, to encourage participation.

For the Jewish World Series players, the tournament is a chance to suit up against other Jewish athletes. “We get to be with other Jewish kids,” says Daniel Jacoby, a junior from Ida Crown. “It’s a nice benchmark. Everybody plays in different divisions and we get to see which is the best Jewish team out there.”

For the visiting teams, especially from the Greater New York area like Ramaz and Kushner, it’s a chance to see Orthodox life in other parts of the country.

PUTTING COLUMBUS ON THE JEWISH WORLD MAP

With a total Jewish population of about 22,000 (including some 350 frum families), Columbus has fewer Jews than some New York neighborhoods; Torah Academy’s total student enrollment barely tops 220. The city has hosted past gatherings such as smaller-scale regional NCSY conventions, but the tournament is a chance to really show off. “We have gone to Shabbatons in other cities for basketball tournaments and were viewed only as a small school from Ohio; we wanted to put Columbus Torah Academy on the map,” Athletic Director Matt Bailey says. “Now we go to tournaments and I am constantly asked by other coaches, administrators and parents, ‘Aren’t you the school with the baseball tournament?’”

The tournament earned coverage on the front page of the sports section in the daily Columbus Dispatch, “which for our school… is a big deal,” Bailey says.

“If you aren’t invited to the party, then have your own party, right?” columnist Bob Hunter writes on Torah Academy’s decision to form its own baseball tournament. “It only makes sense.”

“This is our March Madness,” Hunter quotes Bailey as saying, alluding to the informal name for college basketball’s annual championship tournament.

Hunter describes the challenges the day school faces in arranging a sports schedule without Friday night or Saturday-before-sundown games. Torah Academy usually faces other small religious schools such as Delaware Christian and Licking County Christian Academy. A baseball tournament of its own avoids these problems, Hunter explains. Torah Academy’s only worry at this point is the weather. “Shabbat doesn’t leave much flexibility for scheduling rainouts,” he says.

So far, God—and the skies—have smiled on the schedulers. There’s a waiting list for future editions of the Jewish World Series.

At the games, there are kosher snacks for sale in the stands; “HaTikvah” and “The Star Spangled Banner” play beforehand. And there are tailgate parties featuring picnic-style socializing in the parking lot before the umpire yells “Play ball!”

The umpires, who are non-Jewish, are “amazed” by the players’ level of play and conduct, Coach Guinan says. “They feel the players are really respectful.” He calls the tournament a success, both on and off the field. The participating schools keep coming back, as do the fans.

Coach Guinan fondly recalls the “hundreds of people” at the Saturday night games. “The whole community is out at the fields watching the young leaders of the future play a beautiful game,” Bailey says. “It feels like a World Series game.”

Last year’s winner was Yeshiva Atlanta. The school took home the championship trophy following an incredible nine innings—two extra innings—7-5 gut-wrenching win over Kushner Academy of New Jersey, Coach Guinan says.

Coach Guinan describes the 2012 tournament’s atmosphere as, “four days of sunny skies, great community ruach [spirit] and fantastic baseball.”

What if standing-room-only crowds force Rabbi Kahn to walk several blocks to the JCC fields on Saturday night again this year?

“I don’t mind,” he says. “I hope I have to park farther away.”

In 2012, the rabbi says, he had the best of both worlds. “The crowds were bigger . . . but not to the point that I had to walk much farther.”

“Each year,” Rabbi Kahn says, “the tournament grows in stature and popularity. We are expecting an even larger turnout in 2013 and are actively exploring new venues where we can accommodate more teams and larger crowds.”

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