Firehawks boys basketball is champion of Yaffee tournament

BP Photo by Ariela Feitelberg

Rachel Lester, Managing Editor

After a four-year absence from the annual David A. Yaffe Basketball Tournament, the Firehawks  returned to Houston last week to win the boys’ championship Nov. 20 for the first time, while the girls’ team took fourth place.

“It felt amazing to win the tournaments,” said boys co-captain Yossi Halpert. “We got destroyed in our first game. Instead of giving up we kept our eyes on the gold and gave 100 percent… It’s an honor to get MVP.”

Yossi was named the tournament’s most valuable player, and junior co-captain JoJo Fallas received all-tournament honors for the boys’ team.  On Monday a new trophy, in the shape of an almost-life-size basketball, had joined the  trophy case in the lobby.

“Winning was the best feeling ever,” said Yossi. He said the girls’ team had planned ahead of time to sing a certain niggun (folk melody) if it the boys won their championship match. So when the moment came, they had a plan.

“We won, and the girls started singing, and we all joined in and sang.”

In games that were broadcast live on the flat-screen monitor in the foyer, Shalhevet lost its first outing against Robert M. Beren Academy of Houston 64-48 Thursday afternoon.  They went on to win their second game, against Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy of Kansas City, and found themselves in a three-way tie for second place with Yavneh Academy of Dallas and Emery/Wiener Hebrew Academy, also of Houston.

 “We had a really bad game the first game,” said junior Eitan Rothman. “They didn’t miss anything — they shot incredibly from the field. They outplayed us in every aspect.”

When three teams were tied with two wins and two losses each at the end of the first round of games, referees counted up the total number of points each team had scored in the first half of their games to see how they would be ranked. Shalhevet led with 152 points total; the next highest score was 90.  So the Firehawks moved up into second place going into the second round of the tournament.

After defeating Yavneh Saturday night, they advanced to play Beren again in the championships. And this time, it was a different story.

“I was impressed and depressed,” said Beren junior Albert Katz. “They [Shalhevet] played hard and fought to the end. The first game in my opinion they thought they were gonna win and came out a little more cocky than pumped and thought it wouldn’t be a challenge. But the second game they played hard and knew it would be a challenge and gave it their all.”

Yossi said the Firehawks didn’t know they’d win it until the last few moments of the game, even though they ended up winning by six points.

“We were up two [points], and then three people got fouled and they all made their free-throws,” he said.  “That’s when we knew it.”

It was the first time Shalhevet had traveled to Houston for the Yaffee games since 2006.  Student violations of kashrut policy prevented the team from returning until now.

Junior Eitan Rothman contributed to this story.