By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - An Orthodox Jewish high school basketball team in Texas will not have to forfeit its playoff game after league officials agreed under legal pressure on Thursday to move up the game time to avoid a conflict with the Jewish Sabbath.
Before Thursday's abrupt reversal, the school, Robert M. Beren Academy in Houston, was going to have the team forfeit the game rather than play as originally scheduled after sundown on Friday night, at the start of the weekly Jewish Sabbath.
Officials from the athletic league, the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools, or TAPPS, had initially refused to move the game to accommodate the team, which has a 23-5 record and won its quarterfinal game by 23 points to earn a berth in the semifinals.
But that changed on Thursday when a federal court in Dallas intervened after the parents of some of the team's members sued.
"We have been issued a temporary restraining order," said Edd Burleson, the league's executive director. "We are currently trying to make arrangements to play that game tomorrow. I have been assured that we will be able to play it on Friday prior to the beginning of the Sabbath, and we will play the finals game after 8 p.m. on Saturday."
"Arrangements have been made to avoid the Sabbath if Beren Academy wins and makes it to the finals," Burleson said.
The school said in a statement it was grateful for the change but that it was not the instigator of the legal action.
"We are thankful to TAPPS for ultimately making the right decision," the school's statement said. "The school administration and board was not involved in any legal action, and we regret that it took a lawsuit filed by parents to bring about this decision."
Until the court order, Burleson and the league had resisted the school's requests to move the game.
"We have certain things that we do, not necessarily based on religion, but when TAPPS was founded, there were no schools in it that celebrated their Sabbath on anything but on Sunday," Burleson had said earlier.
The vast majority of schools that are members of TAPPS are Christian institutions, and the organization does not play tournament games on Sundays, the Christian Sabbath. In fact, the league accommodated one Christian school's Saturday Sabbath previously, Beren's top administrator said.
"There was a precedent two years ago," Head of School Rabbi Harry Sinoff said. "A Seventh Day Adventist team, which is also a Saturday Sabbath observant faith, and TAPPS made an exception for them."
Members of the Beren basketball team play wearing yarmulkes, the school calendar lists months and years according to Hebrew tradition, and the school's mission statement stresses "a commitment to the Torah and its ethical and moral precepts to the Jewish people."
The school -- situated on a 52-acre campus with an enrollment of 275 ranging from nursery school through high school -- is dedicated to Jewish traditions. A key tenet of the faith is to observe the Sabbath.
(Reporting By Jim Forsyth, Writing by Dan Burns; Editing by Karen Brooks, Paul Thomasch and Cynthia Johnston)