The boys basketball teams of Kohelet Yeshiva High School and The Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia will compete this week in what Kohelet Director of Athletics Rabbi Joshua Friedman billed as “Jewish high school March Madness.”
The two local schools will be among 20 nationwide participating in Yeshiva University’s 27th annual Red Sarachek Invitational Basketball Tournament from March 15 through 19. Bernard “Red” Sarachek coached at the university from 1940 to 1969 and is credited with innovative offensive schemes.
The Mesivta Mustangs are seeded 15th and the Kohelet Kings are 16th, which means they’ll be competing in the competition’s lower tiers. Kohelet won the event’s fourth tier last year, said Friedman, who coached the Kings for the past five years before relinquishing the reins to Eli Katz.
“The guys look forward to this all year,” Friedman said, adding that the team competes in the Penn-Jersey Athletic Association against area private and charter schools. “This is the opportunity to show the rest of the U.S. Jewish world what Philly basketball is all about.”
Friedman noted that the event is more than just about basketball.
“The most amazing part is bringing like-minded kids together,” he said.
Friedman participated as a high school student in tournament in 2004 and 2005; in the latter year, he was the starting power forward for the tournament-winning Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Boys High School team. There, he met his college roommate, who became a lifelong friend.
The event does serve as a recruiting tool for Yeshiva University — for both students and student-athletes, Friedman said. The school’s team, known as the Maccabees, made the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time this year, but lost in the first round.
Aside from the tournament, there will be a Shabbaton and campus tours. The Shabbaton program will feature motivational speaker Gian Paul Gonzalez and Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff, an educator and writer on the Judaic studies faculty of both Yeshiva College and Stern College for Women.
For Mesivta, which was founded just four years ago, the tournament invitation is icing on the cake for an eventful season. A week ago, the Bala Cynwyd school debuted a new gym in what formerly was a Methodist church sanctuary.
“To be asked is a big honor for the school,” said Rabbi Gerson Schwartz, who is the dean of students as well as the basketball coach. He noted that there are 25 to 30 Jewish high schools in the New York and New Jersey area alone. “It’s not just a school thing. It’s a community excitement.”
Basketball is a big deal at Mesivta, with 15 of the school’s 44 students on the team. Only eight players will travel to the tournament, and Schwartz will be staying home with his expectant wife. Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy coach Jeremy Treatman will fill in as coach.
Given the seeding for Mesivta and Kohelet, it’s possible the teams will face each other during the tournament. During the season, the teams split two games.