The first clue that this wasn’t just another youth basketball tournament was the name — the Golden Tallis Invitational.
Add in the fact that many of the players were wearing kippot. And that chatter in Hebrew and Russian mixed with English in the stands, where parents and grandparents kvelled over their athletic progeny.
Sure, there were plenty of 3-point attempts (some successful), a technical foul or two and plenty of errant passes. But that’s not what this tournament, held Jan. 28 at UCSF Mission Bay’s Bakar Fitness and Recreation Center, was all about.
The focus was on camaraderie and on highlighting the sports programs of the seven competing Jewish day schools, as well as the two Bay Area Jewish high schools that co-hosted the tournament.
Co-sponsors Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto and the Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco have been holding a Golden Tallis basketball tourney for the past dozen years.
Adam Eilath, director of strategic initiatives at JCHS, felt that adding a middle-school tournament to the festivities would give the sports programs at the day schools, as well as the two high schools, a boost.
“People don’t perceive Jewish high schools as having excellent sports, so we wanted to up the profile of the rivalry,” he said as referees’ whistles and chants from the crowd reverberating around him. “And this is a great opportunity to gather, and to ignite the flames of the rivalry at a younger age.”
Kehillah and JCHS usually play their annual Golden Tallis games at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto (across the street from Kehillah’s campus) or at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center in San Francisco (a few blocks from JCHS). Eilath, who began planning the new tournament in September, said it was booked into the Bakar Center because of the side-by-side courts there.
Most of the afternoon consisted of games involving boys’ and girls’ teams — some assembled just for the tournament — from the seven middle schools: the Brandeis School of San Francisco, Contra Costa Jewish Day School, Gideon Hausner Jewish Day School (Palo Alto), Oakland Hebrew Day School, South Peninsula Hebrew Day School (Sunnyvale), Tehiyah Day School (El Cerrito) and Ronald C. Wornick Jewish Day School (Foster City).
Then came the annual showdown between the Kehillah Rams and the JCHS Wolves. Neither game was close, as JCHS won the boys’ game 60-35 and the girls’ contest 42-31.
Toby Holm of JCHS was selected most valuable player of the boys’ game after scoring 20 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Naomi Moskowitz of JCHS was the girls’ MVP with 10 points, five assists and five steals.
The winning teams then accepted their trophies, each of which was wrapped in a gold-painted tallit. The JCHS boys have now won the trophy eight times in the 12 years of the rivalry, while the JCHS girls have won 10 of the 12 games.
The schools also have annual showdowns in soccer and baseball. In soccer, the contest is dubbed the Kiddush Cup, and in baseball it’s the Seder Plates.
Eilath said he hopes the tournament can become an annual event as well, to help develop sports programs at the middle schools and let those kids see what awaits them if they attend Jewish high schools.
“I think it will raise the profile of sports in our high schools,” he said. “Sometimes kids have to make a choice: Do I want to go to the Jewish school or to the high school that has a top-notch baseball team? We want them not to have to make that choice.”