In Piedmont, shofar takes priority over shoulder pads

Sports announcers always say that numbers don't lie.

Well, about how about these statistics?

The quarterback of the Piedmont High School football team has completed 96 percent of his passes this season to Jewish receivers.

And 66 percent of his handoffs have gone to Jews.

No, the quarterback isn't Jewish, but most of his running backs and wide receivers are.

"None of us wears a yarmulke under our helmet or anything like that, but it seems like half of our team is Jewish," said co-captain Andrew Winer.

In fact, there are 11 players on the Piedmont High varsity roster this season who are Jewish. Nine of them are starters, and several of them are shaping up as all-league candidates.

But with 25 percent of the team being Jewish, the Highlanders could have been in danger of facing a big dilemma next week.

Rosh Hashanah starts next Friday night — the same night on which high school football games are usually played.

However, Piedmont High Principal Pam Bradford was on the ball.

Before the season even began, she spotted the potential conflict and took steps to make sure the players and their families wouldn't have to choose between the sound of the shofar and the roar of the crowd.

She scheduled Piedmont's home game against Tennyson High of Hayward for Thursday.

"Last year, Rosh Hashanah also began on a Friday night and the conflict was brought to the principal's attention and the game was moved," said Barbara Love, who has a son and stepson on the Piedmont squad.

"This year, Pam saw the schedule and she made the change herself. It's all about education. Once the broader community realizes the significance of the holiday, then it becomes understood."

Another Jewish parent, booster club board member Sherry Felson, also hailed Bradford for shifting the game to Thursday, "without our even asking."

Added Felson: "It has really made it nice because now the family doesn't have to choose" between attending High Holy Day services and allowing a son to play in a football game.

Piedmont, an affluent, hilly 1.8-square mile city entirely surrounded by Oakland, has a population of about 11,000. According to the estimate of one school board member, about 10 to 12 percent of residents are Jewish.

At the city's lone high school, Bradford guessed that anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of the 888 students are Jewish.

Those percentages are certainly reflected on the football field, where Jewish players dominate what are often referred to as the "skill positions" — running back, wide receiver and tight end.

In two games so far this season, one victory and one loss, Piedmont's offense has struck for six touchdowns, the first five of which were scored by Jewish players.

Peter Schneider, a 5-foot-11 senior, was one of the East Bay's top wide receivers last year, when Piedmont posted a 4-5 record. This year, with the Highlanders having aspirations for a league title, he is again among area leaders with 13 catches for 181 yards and one touchdown.

Winer, another senior wide receiver, was a standout in last week's 37-6 victory over Encinal High of Alameda. He caught five passes for 71 yards and hauled in his second touchdown catch of the season.

Senior tight end Zack Felson has just two catches, but at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he has perhaps the best chance among the team's Jews to continue playing football in college. He's exploring Ivy League colleges and Division III schools in the East, such as Tufts University in Massachusetts and Middlebury College in Vermont.

The other Jewish standouts include senior running backs Ben Rubke and Ben DeBonis, who have rushed for 105 and 86 yards, respectively. DeBonis joins Winer among the team's five co-captains.

The other Jewish starters are seniors Ben Kremen, Jack Dresnick, Justin Lindenmayer and Brandon Binder. Junior Brian Gutterman doesn't start, and junior Josh Boltuch is sidelined with an injury.

Winer said he thinks most of the team's Jewish players celebrated a bar mitzvah. Moreover, many of the players attended religious school together at Temple Sinai in Oakland.

"When they were going through religious school, they were called the 'Jewish mafia.' They were a huge group and always very full of energy," Love said. "Even as little boys, you could see there was such good camaraderie. It's not much of a surprise they ended up playing football together."

Love said most of the boys attended each other's bar mitzvahs and that last year, one of the parents had a Sukkot dinner before a home game.

Winer, Rubke and Felson went to Israel together this summer on a trip with Camp Ramah of California. Kremen and Lindenmayer went on a summer Israel trip with Temple Sinai.

Most of the Jewish players on the squad would classify themselves as Reform, but Winer and his family belong to Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, although they are "more Conservative" than Orthodox. If he were strictly observant, he wouldn't be playing football on Friday nights.

As for having next week's game shifted to Thursday so it wouldn't fall on erev Rosh Hashanah, Winer was behind it all the way.

"I think it's really cool that they'll change a game, and not just because a lot of the guys on the team are Jewish," he said. "It's out of respect for our religion."

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.