Calif. soccer league praised for handling holiday conflict

With Saturday marking the kick-off of the soccer season for tens of thousands of Northern California youngsters, it's unlikely that many teams will take a bye for Rosh Hashanah.

But the head of the Pleasanton-based California Youth Soccer Association pledged that he would ask the organization's 130 independent leagues to consider religious holidays and other "legitimate interests" in the future when scheduling games and tryouts.

"I don't think I can say you have to honor any particular religious holiday, but I think we want to take into consideration and make accommodations to whatever extent we can," said John Murphy, chairman of the 217,000-player association. The CYSA is a nonsectarian group representing youth soccer players throughout Northern and Central California. Its leagues set their own playing schedules.

Murphy stressed, however, that no player would be penalized for missing a game or tryout because of the holiday.

He was unaware of the scheduling conflict until receiving a call last Friday from Jackie Berman, education specialist at the Jewish Community Relations Council. Berman was particularly concerned about the scheduling on Sunday of tryouts in Morgan Hill for some 600 teenage girls vying for a spot on an elite squad called the Olympic Development Program.

Asked if he knew in advance that Sunday was the second day of the Jewish New Year, Murphy said, "Oh, gosh no." Noting that it was too late to reschedule Sunday's tryout, he said any player unable to attend could participate in a second date set for Oct. 13.

"It's for kids who couldn't make the first one for whatever reason," Murphy said.

Berman praised Murphy's responsiveness to the issue and looked forward to working with the organization in the future.

Twice yearly, Berman distributes seven-year Jewish calendars to school officials throughout the Bay Area in an attempt to avoid scheduling of school events on religious holidays. Up until now, she hasn't included soccer leagues on her mailing list.

In particular, she was relieved to hear that players would face no repercussions for missing this weekend's soccer events.

"These kids, because it's opening day, are going to feel conflicted. There may be discussions in the family about what should be done," said Berman. "They need to know that the highest authority in the California Youth Soccer Association said no kid will be penalized because they're observing Rosh Hashanah."

Rabbi Pam Frydman Baugh, spiritual leader of Or Shalom Jewish Community in San Francisco and the mother of a 15-year-old soccer player described the scheduling matter as "a complicated issue" for many Jewish families, noting that most soccer games regularly take place on Shabbat.

She added, however, that the High Holy Days take "a more prominent place in our lives" and expressed her wish that next year's league openers would be scheduled to avoid falling on Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur.

When told of Murphy's comments, Frydman Baugh said, "I think that's a wonderful response and the best we could have hoped for" on short notice.

Frydman Baugh said she had tried without success to reschedule her son's game on Saturday. She was told that a new date was not possible because of the limited availability of fields.

When her son, Josh, learned his first game of the season would conflict with the Jewish New Year, he made an immediate decision. "He said, 'Of course I'm not going to play,'" related Frydman Baugh, who serves as the co-manager of her son's team.

Josh plans to seek a spot on the Olympic Development team, but the boys' tryouts don't pose a conflict because they are scheduled for Sept. 15.

Describing soccer as a sport "friendly" to youth of all ethnicities, the rabbi said, "What I'm really looking for is responsiveness of the soccer community in the future.

"I'm very sure that the problem with the soccer community has been a lack of understanding and not a lack of empathy."

The scheduling dilemma also affects at least two players on San Francisco's University High School boys' soccer team, which is set to play in a tournament today and Saturday in Sacramento. Because of the holiday, one player plans to skip the trip altogether, according to Red Devils' coach Rusty Taylor. Another family is looking into the possibility of having their son attend services at a Sacramento-area synagogue.

"I'm not holding that over anyone if they choose to stay," Taylor said.