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Jewish high school basketball team wins championships

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Or Chaim Knights

Basketball is generally considered to be a tall man’s game, but the Or Chaim Knights proved that a roster of smaller, hard working, dedicated smurfs who pull together can win – especially when they’ve got ha-Shem on their side.

Support from the Almighty was credited by at least one member of the team, which recently won the TDCAA city championship for small schools (A division), before moving on to the prestigious OFSAA provincial championships.

(The TDCAA is the league in which most Toronto religious schools play, while the OFSAA brings together schools from throughout the province.)

The Knights, whose players are generally smaller than those of other teams, finished with one win and two losses in the provincial competition, which was held recently in London, Ont.

During the regular season, the boys accumulated a 5-9 record, defeating all the A teams in Toronto that they played and losing some close ones to the bigger, AA schools they faced. They beat St. Mother Teresa Catholic Academy and lost a tight match against Jean Vanier, the TDCAA AA runner-up, by only three points, said Yoni Bensoussan, a five-foot-nine point guard with the Knights.

Of course, the OFSAA provincial tournament featured only A teams like Or Chaim – schools with fewer than 500 students.

Entering the tournament seeded 18th out of 20 teams, Or Chaim lost its first game 58-57 to fourth-seeded É.S. Sainte-Famille, despite leading 47-36 going in to the fourth quarter.

They won their second game 64-60 against Rockway Mennonite Collegiate, the 15th seed. They then faced the No. 2 seed, GL Roberts CVI, and, needing a win to advance, lost 61-59, after going into the fourth quarter leading 45-40.

Despite the defeat, David Haber, a Grade 11 shooting guard, said the team turned heads with its unique brand of fast-paced offence delivered by undersized players.

“Every coach was impressed by us. No one knew who we were. We were so competitive,” he said.

When fist-pumping an opposition coach after a game, the coach told him, “I never saw an offence running as well as yours,” Haber recalled.

To succeed against other, bigger teams, the Knights employ an offence that makes them look different on the court, Haber explained. “Our coach established a type of motion.… We use the big man as the point guard. He has the ball in his hands most of the time and directs what happens.”

Along with the team’s “speed and killer instinct, the offence the coach created allowed us to thrive without the size advantage,” Haber said.

“We’re always the smaller team.… Against top-tier teams, our biggest guy is the size of their point guard.”

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Gord Skarott, Or Chaim’s athletic director, attributed much of the team’s success to its coach, Ben Halberstadt.

“We have always had excellent coaching with our senior team. Ben Halberstadt, in his third year, provides outstanding dedication, basketball knowledge and leadership. He prepares our players well and puts them in situations for them to succeed,” Skarott said.

Considering the small size of the school, even relative to other A teams, the accomplishments are magnified.

With a student body of only 131 boys, Or Chaim is small even by A standards. Only about 25-30 kids try out for the varsity (Grades 11 and 12) team.

The team practices twice a week and plays games against A teams and some higher-ranked teams, to round out its schedule.

The TDCAA held its annual championship in late February. As the No. 1 seed, Or Chaim got a bye in the first round. In its first game, versus St. Frere Andre, the Knights prevailed 54-36.

In the championship game, Or Chaim defeated Crawford Academy, the No. 2 seed, by a score of 77-58.

Whether they win or lose, the boys at Or Chaim believe they have a responsibility to present a positive face on behalf of the Jewish community during their games.

“We always try and be on our best behaviour knowing that we are being watched and are representing the Jewish community.” Skarott said.