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Sarachek Tournament cancelled as coronavirus outbreak closes YU

March 4, 2020

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BP Archive Photo by Sarah Elspas '15

HIGHLIGHT: Attending the annual Red Sarachek Tournament is a big event not only for Shalhevet players but for their fans, many of whom fly to New York for the event.  Above, Firehawk then-captain and MVP Zack Muller leapt over rival YULA players in YU’s Max Stern Athletic Center in 2018.

UPDATED MARCH 5: Next week’s Red Sarachek Basketball Tournament at Yeshiva University has been cancelled due to fears of the coronavirus, Shalhevet Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal announced this morning on Schoology. 

The annual tournament, which hosts 20 teams from Jewish high schools around the U.S. and Canada, was supposed to take place March 12 – 16 in the Max Stern Athletic Center at Yeshiva University in Manhattan.

“I will share more info later but I wanted to let you know before you hear from other sources that Sarachek has been cancelled,” wrote Rabbi Segal in the post. 

“I know everyone was looking forward to it and everyone will be disappointed but it is what it is,” he continued. “I will be in touch when we have more info.”

The cancellation was apparently very new information. Rabbi Segal announced it at 11:35 a.m., but it had not been mentioned on the tournament’s web page, and was not announced by YU until evening.

At 6:15 p.m. New York time, YU announced that the entire university would be closed until after Purim because of the illness, which is also known as COVID-19.  

“At this time, we are taking the precautionary measures of canceling all classes on the Washington Heights and Midtown Campuses until after Purim, Tuesday, March 10, 2020,” YU announced on its new Health Alert: COVID-19 page.

“We will also be postponing all social events on those campuses until further notice including the Sarachek basketball tournament and Purim celebrations.”

In addition, Shalhevet Chief Operating Officer Sarah Emerson said school officials were discussing the disposition of numerous other trips scheduled for this month, including Penn Model Congress in Philadelphia, the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Boiling Point trip in Manhattan; and the SAS Civil War class’s trip to Gettysburg.

In an email to parents sent just after noon, Ms. Emerson said school officials were “meeting actively internally and with external guidance” from county health officials.  Los Angeles County declared a health emergency this morning after the number of coronavirus cases rose to seven.

“We are working with our faculty leading upcoming trips as well as our travel agent on contingency plans should trips be cancelled or otherwise,” Ms. Emerson wrote.

She also raised the possibility of Shalhevet needing to close.

“We are discussing contingency plans should there be a school closing,” she wrote.

It was not clear why Shalhevet would close, but an outbreak of coronavirus has sickened members of the Modern Orthodox community in New Rochelle, N.Y., where one man has now been traced to nine other cases throughout the city. That man’s son is the infected student at YU, and his daughter attends SAR High School in Riverdale.

On Tuesday, SAR and two nearby schools, Westchester Torah Academy, and Westchester Day School, announced that they would be closed temporarily because of those cases.

In addition, Modern Orthodox schools around the country, including both YU and Shalhevet, sent scores of students and faculty to the just-concluded AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C. 

The Sarachek tournament — attended by 20 Jewish teams from across the U.S. and Canada — is the culmination of the boys’ basketball season each year. Shalhevet has won the prestigious tournament for the past two years in a row.

“I’m pretty sure no one has ever won three straight so now we don’t get to do that this year,” said junior Jacob Pofsky, who plays for the boys varsity team.

We are working with our faculty leading upcoming trips as well as our travel agent on contingency plans should trips be cancelled or otherwise.”

— Sarah Emerson, Shalhevet Chief Operating Officer

Senior Ari Schlacht said the cancelled tournament would be a missed opportunity for the school.

“It sucks, especially for Shalhevet because they could have won this year and they could win next year, so they could have been the first team in Sarachek history to win four years straight, which could have been big,” said Ari. “And it’s really sad they can’t do that now.” 

Shalhevet teams at the tournament are usually joined by the majority of the senior class, who pay for their own flights and hotel rooms and skip school to cheer the team on.

American Airlines, Delta, Jetblue and Alaskan Airlines have all announced in the past week that they would waive some change and cancellation fees. Specifics differ by airlines.

Senior David Saeedian, who had booked a flight and hotel for the trip, said he is currently trying to get a refund.

David said that he was surprised that “YU was one of the first universities to admit that one of their students has corona and literally a week before we were planning to go,” said David

Senior Alyssa Wallack has cancelled her flight and hotel room.

“Sarachek is meant to be one of the highlights of senior year and it’s really upsetting that this senior class is not gonna get to experience that,” said Alyssa.

Others hadn’t yet decided what to do as of this morning.

“I think some seniors still might be going to New York,” said senior Caroline Edry. “I’m just trying to figure out whether I’m still going.”

According to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who gave a news conference Wednesday morning, New York state had seven cases of the illness.  They included a neighbor of the man in New Rochelle. 

“We have unfortunately received news this morning that our student has tested positive for COVID-19,” Yeshiva University wrote in a statement Wednesday morning regarding the male undergraduate. “We are taking every precaution by canceling all classes on Wilf Campus in Washington Heights for Wednesday March 4, 2020. This includes all in-person graduate courses on that campus as well as at the boys’ high school.”

Firehawk guard Jack Resin said Sarachek being cancelled left their season ending with a loss.  They fell to the Westlake Warriors 83-49 in the second-round of the CIF Division 3AA playoffs Feb. 15.

“We ended the regular season on a pretty tough note,” said Jack. “We lost by a bunch in the playoffs to Westlake and I think we really were looking forward to this to bounce back and end the season on a high note. And not having an opportunity is really just crushing for us.”

Senior editor Sam Rubanowitz and Community Editor Molly Litvak contributed to this story.

This story is breaking news and will be updated as the Boiling Point receives new information.

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Sarachek Tournament cancelled as coronavirus outbreak closes YU