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Coach of Orthodox Jewish basketball team still hopeful Texas-sized 'miracle' will allow them to play semifinal game

  • Beren Academy boys' basketball team (2)

    Feb. 28, 2012: Senior Isaac Mirwis, 18, shoots a 3-pointer during basketball practice at Beren Academy in Houston.AP/Houston Chronicle, Mayra Beltran

  • Beren Academy boys' basketball team

    Feb. 28, 2012: Roni Buchine, 14, practices with the Beren Academy boys' basketball team in Houston.AP/Houston Chronicle, Mayra Beltran

The boys basketball team at an Orthodox Jewish school in Texas is hoping for a "miracle" after a state agency turned down the 23-5 squad's request to reschedule a tournament semifinal game that falls on the Sabbath. 

The Houston-based Beren Academy Stars stormed into the semifinals of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools' 2A tournament and was set to tip off against Dallas Covenant at 9 p.m. Friday. Beren players, however, observe the Sabbath between Friday evening and Saturday evening and will not play basketball during those hours, coach Chris Cole told FoxNews.com.

TAPPS director Ed Burleson, who did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday, said Tuesday that the agency's nine-member board unanimously voted down a request by Beren to have the game time moved.

Cole, now in his 10th year at the school, said he's "disappointed" by the ruling but hopeful that a last-minute compromise can be reached.

"We know that every day gets later and later, but we feel like things could be changed," Cole told FoxNews.com. "We operate in a world of sports where things do change -- the Daytona 500 was changed, so things are possible. It's an inconvenience, we know that, but it's really a matter of desire to want to do it. That's what it comes down to."

The team will continue to have light practices in case a reversal is made, Cole said.

"The media attention kind of has the kids caught in the headlights, but we're trying to go about life as usual," he said. "We are having light practices in case a miracle happens. We want to be prepared."

If the Stars can't take the court, Dallas Covenant will play Kerrville Our Lady of the Hills, the team that Beren defeated to reach the regional semifinal. Covenant officials had "clearly expressed" to Beren administrators and TAPPS officials a willingness to reschedule the game, according to a statement released by the school Tuesday. But the decision was ultimately up to TAPPS, headmaster Kyle Queal told FoxNews.com.

"On an individual level, we here at Covenant have the deepest respect for Beren Academy, their convictions and their willingness to stick to their convictions even when the costs are high to do so," Queal said Wednesday. "And we have great respect for the lessons learned from that. They have chosen the higher road."

Burleson has said the decision not to reschedule the game had nothing to do with religion, but rather the organization's policy not to change the date of the playoffs. That rule has been in place since TAPPS' inception in 1978, he said.

Beren joined the organization last year and Burleson said school officials were told not to expect TAPPS to adjust its postseason schedule, a fact Cole confirmed.

"This is something that we did know and were made aware of," Cole said. "We would just like there to be some sort of flexibility on the rare occasion that we get this far."

Jeremy Thorton, athletic director at Kerrville Our Lady of the Hills, told FoxNews.com that his "heart" goes out to the boys of Beren.

"The feelings are always missed in a situation like this," he said. "We feel for the young men of Beren who played so well all year long and played well against us -- and beat us. But at the same time, Coach Cole and I have spoken several times on scheduling and we've had frank conversations that this situation may come to pass."

Playing on the Sabbath, however, just isn't in the playbook, Cole said.

"Observing the Sabbath is part of their everyday lives," he said. "It's not negotiable. It teaches them about the bigger picture -- to stand up for what you believe in."

In a statement to FoxNews.com, officials at the Anti-Defamation League said they were "deeply disappointed" by TAPPS' denial of the request to reschedule and called on the organization to reconsider.

Meanwhile, Tamir Goodman, a basketball star once dubbed the "Jewish Jordan" by Sports Illustrated, said he has met with Beren players earlier this year and admired their convictions. League officials should now see the "bigger picture," he said.

"The most amazing thing about sport is that it has the power to unite cultures and infuse good into the world," Goodman told FoxNews.com. "Breaking down racial and cultural barriers and teaching great life lessons, that's what sports are all about, especially at the high school level.

"It's a great opportunity to do a lot of good. I hope that they reconsider. Jewish people have been celebrating the Sabbath for thousands of years and America is about respecting cultures and doing good things for other people."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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