Girls struggle to balance religion, sports as tournament nears

Girls struggle to balance religion, sports as tournament nears
MERCER ISLAND, Wash. -- What the girls basketball team from Northwest Yeshiva High School used to dream of is now reality.

The team of only seven active players is heading to the state tournament in Yakima.

"There's been no Jewish school go to the state tournament all across the U.S., so this is really a big deal and would be really great to get this to work out for us," said sophomore Julia Owen.

They'll arrive in Yakima Tuesday night and play their first game on Wednesday.

Northwest Yeshiva is strictly Orthodox Jewish, and the team is nicknamed "the 613s" for the number of commandments they observe.

If the girls win on Wednesday, they'll play a night game on Thursday. If they lose, they're supposed to play a day game the next day. And that's a big problem, because Thursday is one of several fasting days of the year. The team cannot eat or drink until after sunset.

"For them to play a game without hydration, without being able to drink, we would not feel comfortable with that," said Rabbi Bernie Fox of Northwest Yeshiva High School. "That's not in the best interest of their safety."

In the case of a loss, the school has requested to the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association to move the Thursday game to another venue in Yakima so the team can play. The school has even offered to travel to its opponent's home court just so it can be an evening match-up.

"We're willing to partner with the WIAA even financially to find a solution to this problem so our girls can play through the tournament," said Fox.

But the school says the WIAA has dug in its heels, and that could create a worst case scenario. If the girls lose the first game, they'll be forced to walk onto the court on Thursday and forfeit.

"No team wants to go out there and not be able to play," said Owen. "We're all going to be there to play, and have the chance to play our hardest and do our best. And if we can't, that's going to be unfortunate and a disappointment."

In the past, the WIAA has made adjustments for religions observing the sabbath on Saturdays. But this situation is apparently something that's not covered by its current policy.