For David Zimmerman and his basketball players at Yavneh Academy, winning a championship was about more than adding a trophy in the school’s case.
When the Bulldogs earned the TAPPS 3A crown on Feb. 29, with a 50-35 win over Rosehill Christian, they made history as the first Jewish school to win a state hoops title in Texas.
In the process, their head coach hopes they broke down some stereotypes and helped spread a message of acceptance and brotherhood through basketball.
“If this were a Hollywood script, nobody would believe it. But it’s real, and it happened,” Zimmerman said. “These young men have broken that barrier.”
Yavneh (31-3) finished its sea- son with 18 straight victories and lost only once all season to an in-state opponent. The Bulldogs advanced to the TAPPS state tournament for the fourth consecutive season. They lost a double-over-time heartbreaker in the title game in 2017 and fell in the semifinals in each of the past two years.
“You have seniors on this team who have been through the strongest of adversity,” Zimmerman said. “This group really wanted to be tight as a family. They really bought into that. They sacrificed individual stats and accolades. The key to our success was depth and building a team.”
Among the Yavneh players earning all-tournament honors were seniors Tyler Winton, Mason Schwaber, and Jonah Eber, along with junior Jason Prager. Some of them were part of the program when the Bulldogs came so close three years ago.
“It stuck in their heads. They told me they’d be back,” Zimmerman said. “The hard work truly paid off for them.”
Yavneh’s quest for the title dates to 2014 when Zimmerman persuaded school officials to rejoin TAPPS following an extended absence. The timing followed the organization’s decision to ease scheduling restrictions after a 2012 controversy involving Beren Academy in Houston, who almost had to forfeit a state tournament game for refusing to play on the Sabbath.
TAPPS has just three Jewish schools as members, which makes Yavneh’s achievement even more significant, Zimmerman said. He’s heard the jokes and seen the looks his players have gotten when they walk into gyms with yarmulkes on their heads. By the end of the game, the sentiment is typically one of mutual respect and admiration.
“We know we’re the minority. Basketball is a vessel for us to introduce ourselves,” Zimmerman said. “We’ve always had to hold ourselves to the highest standards. Whether we like it or not, we’re ambassadors.”