December 1, 2005 | Issue 24

Disappointment at New National Yeshiva Athletics Association Team Name Guidelines

article pic TENAFLY, NEW JERSEY — [TheKnish.com] Following renewed guidelines from the National Yeshiva Athletics Association of North America (NYAA-NA), many Jewish high schools around the country are renaming their school team names to meet more Jewish tastes. Needless to say, fans, parents and players are not happy.

Michael Modernish, a senior and starting goalie for the Tenafly Academy of Torah expressed his disgust to TheKnish.com. "Last year we were the Tigersharks. We were a menacing team with a menacing name. This year we are the Gefilte Fish? Can you only imagine what that will do for morale?"

They have already lost their first game, a road game, to the Manhattan Torah High School Masmidim. MTHS fans wreaked havoc on the nerves of the Gefilte Fish and the officials by chucking chrain onto the gym floor after each MTHS goal. Even the press made a laughing stock of Modernish's team by running the headline, "Masmidim slice Gefilte Fish with chrain on the side."

But the team names weren't the half of it for the Tenafly school. The NYAA-NA guidelines proved doubly painful as they also required that schools not put their initials on a shirt if it spells out an inappropriate phrase. Last year the Tenafly school was known as the Tenafly Institute for Torah, but the NYAA-NA learned that its girls' basketball uniforms had the schools initials emblazoned across the chest and it took umbrage. Outraged, the school's principal had no choice but to change the middle letter. "We've been sparring with the NYAA-NA all the time. To the point at which we were exchanging Tit for Tat (quite literally). So to spite them, that's why we chose the name Gefilte Fish," says TAT principal Chaim Speitfeld. "Before Gefilte Fish, we were going to take the name of the teams of the University of South Carolina - the alma mater of our basketball coach, but we were told that the only name we could match to our male chicken logo was the Roosters." Speitfeld has joined with the principals of other schools affected by the naming rules, schools as far flung as the Dallas-Rosenthal Egalitarian Yeshiva - Klafter-Unger Program and the Pittsburgh Region United School of Torah.

The move did not come as a surprise, as insiders in the Yeshiva Athletics world saw it coming. At their most recent annual meeting held on the campus of the Catholic University, the NYAA-NA board of governors voted unanimously on a resolution that called for its member schools to drop 'non-kosher' team nicknames and mascots and replace them with ones that foster a better sense of Jewish identity and/or represent Jewish themes. This move is seen as an appeasement to the Charedization lobby who wants inter-school athletics to be banned all together. The NYAA-NA hopes that by asking member schools to adopt more 'heimish' nicknames they will be able to address the critics of Yeshiva Athletics.

NYAA-NA spokesman Ephraim Ecksempel said that they were, "Trying to have their member schools carry Jewish values everywhere they go including the ball field." He went on to list several of the criteria regarding acceptable names for yeshiva teams. In addition to the aforementioned rules regarding school initials, the new criteria require that all names exemplify something Jewish and that terms more commonly suited for "goyish" schools should not be used. Out are the Crusaders, Knights and Warriors and in are the Masmidim, Shomrim and Chayalim. While NYAA-NA said animal names are acceptable, they further qualified that statement by requiring that only names of kosher animals be used. Gone are the days of the Lions and Tigers and Bears, which will inevitably become the Chickens, Cows and Sheep - Oh My!

Of course, schools are working hard to try to comply and it isn't easy. For example, the Atlanta Solomon Schecter High School, banned from using their initials, turned to one of their religious studies teachers (an Orthodox Rabbi) and asked him to come up with an appropriate name. They loved the name, printed up booster materials and uniforms, but then were flabbergasted to find out that the team name - the Apikorsim, didn't paint them in a flattering light. But, while many of the teams around the NYAA-NA are complaining, other schools are doing okay with it. Take the South Hartford Institute for Talmudic Studies. Banned from placing their initials onto their uniforms, they picked a team name that matches the schools affiliation with the Chabad Lubavtich Movement - the Shluchim. The team and fans love it and they have gone all out to play up the brand. They have warmup suits that come complete with crushed black hats and the team bus is referred to as the "Mitzvah Tank". The team mascot - Shneur Zalman the Shaliach - runs up and down the aisles in their stadium and puts tefillin on people during game breaks. Even their fight song - Yechi Adoneinu Morainu V'Rabainu - is pretty catchy and it doesn't hurt that their best player is named - you guessed it- Elimelech Moshiach. (Whenever he leaves the court, the fans chant "We want Moshiach Now".) They have even had Matisyahu perform at a halftime show during their home opener against the Gefilte Fish, a game which the Shluchim won 7-3. The headline the next morning read, "Shluchim have Gefilte Fish for lunch."

Writer

Pencil Yonah Wolf played high school basketball as a member of the New Haven Knights and never put tefillin on anyone (at least not during a game). When he's not writing for TheKnish.com, he gives people a piece of his mind on his blog Confessions of an Orthodox Jewish Dad.


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