By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Reuters) - Capping off a week of wins, an Orthodox Jewish high school basketball team in Texas won its hard-fought semifinals game on Friday afternoon - just hours before the start of the Jewish Sabbath.
The Robert Beren Academy of Houston now advances to the finals in a triumph that almost never happened - and that goes well beyond athletic prowess.
Going into Friday's game, the Beren Stars boasted a 23-5 record and had handily beat the team from Kerrville last weekend to get into the semifinals.
But they almost had to forfeit because the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools refused to move the game off the Sabbath - the period between sundown on Friday and sundown on Saturday when observant Jews abstain from working or engaging in activities such as sports.
On Thursday, the team scored an 11th-hour victory when a court order forced TAPPS to move back the evening game from 9 p.m. to earlier in the day so the Jewish team could play.
Friday's 58-46 victory over the Dallas Covenant Academy at 2 p.m. in Fort Worth means Beren advances to the finals against the winner of tonight's other semifinal game between Abilene Christian School and Logos Preparatory Academy of Sugar Land.
The championship game will be played Saturday night at 8 p.m., well after the end of the Sabbath at sundown.
Beren Coach Chris Cole joked that he'll be the only one scouting the Stars' potential opponents Friday night, because the Beren players will be observing the Sabbath at tip-off.
"Fortunately, not being Jewish, I get to come to the game tonight," Cole said. "The boys don't, but I do."
The battle to make it to the championship was filled with more drama than the game, which Beren led from start to finish.
When the association at first declined to adjust the starting time for today's semifinals, Beren Head of School Rabbi Harry Sinoff said the team would have to forfeit because to violate the Sabbath would be contrary to the school's principles.
The school was about to hand its shot at the title to the team the Stars had defeated by 23 points just days before. TAPPS held its ground, saying that the Jewish school knew what it was getting into when it joined the organization and wanted to play.
But when attorneys representing several parents at the school filed for a temporary restraining order in a federal court in Dallas, TAPPS Executive Director Edd Burleson declined to contest it.
"We are thankful to TAPPS for ultimately making the right decision ... The school administration and board was not involved in any legal action, and we regret that it took a lawsuit filed by parents to bring about this decision," Sinoff said.
"We are very proud of our basketball team, the boys have handled the stress of this past week with extraordinary maturity and composure."
(Reporting By Jim Forsyth, Editing by Karen Brooks and Tim Gaynor)