‘Coaching fail,’ critics say of high school basketball game marred by antisemitism
The coach of Roosevelt High School in Yonkers varsity girls basketball team was fired after players on the team uttered antisemitic slurs during a agaime against Leffell School, a Jewish Day School Thursday, Jan. 4 ,2024. (Photo: Stock)

How did the adults allow a game between a day school and public school to get so out of hand?

By Beth Harpaz
January 8, 2024

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

Investigations are underway and a coach has lost his job after a public school basketball team used antisemitic slurs in a game against a Jewish day school. 

But while some say incidents like the one in Yonkers, New York, are relatively unusual, others wonder how the adults in charge allowed the situation to get so out of hand. 

Ric Fouad, an attorney and child welfare advocate, was one of many who took to social media to call it a “coaching fail.” Others wondered why the referee did not intervene or eject the players who uttered the slurs. Those insults, according to multiple reports, included a public school player telling a day school player: “I support Hamas, you f—cking Jew.”

The unidentified coach of the offending team from Roosevelt High School was fired and a student was taken off their team. Roosevelt’s principal, Edward DeChent, and the Yonkers teachers union did not respond to emails from the Forward seeking comment. A spokesperson for the Jewish school, Leffell, located in Hartsdale, New York, said in an email that the school was “grateful for the community’s support and for your interest in our school,” but declined further comment.

Several individuals knowledgeable about Jewish day school sports said yeshiva teams typically play other day school teams, so they’re not often faced with players who aren’t Jewish. 

“It’s disgusting that this happened, but it’s very rare for private Jewish schools to play against public schools,” said David Wyszkowski, retired director of the Metropolitan Jewish Day School Basketball League. “Normally they play in their own league against other day schools.”

Bridge building 

Jeffrey Gurock, an expert on Jews in American sports who teaches at Yeshiva University, called the Yonkers incident “a terrible situation, but I don’t think it’s representative of a major trend. Generally speaking, the sports world in America has been very supportive of Israel. You had a number of very positive situations where teams have played ‘Hatikva’ or they’ve flown the Israeli flag.”

In particular, Gurock saluted bridge-building efforts in 2022 by coaches of the Salanter Akiba Riverdale Yeshiva team and the Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom School, both in the Bronx, following NBA star Kyrie Irving’s antisemitic comments. Their scrimmage, followed by a kosher dinner and meet-up, left both teams with good feelings, said Rafi Halpert, the SAR varsity basketball coach who helped organize that get-together with Fannie Lou’s coach, Mark Skelton, who is Black and of Jewish descent. 

“I watched their game with Fannie Lou in late October and it was quite moving,” said Michael Powell, who wrote about Skelton’s coaching for The New York Times. “It goes back to adults being adults and helping teenagers to see through to common humanity.”

Halpert said while SAR hasn’t experienced the type of harassment that the Leffell school suffered, mainly because they mostly play other Jewish schools, he’s “not surprised” by it. 

Since Oct. 7, “people feel freer to come out with how they really feel. I’ve had tremendous support from non-Jews, African Americans and other people I know, but you also hear people feeling more comfortable to voice their antisemitism,” Halpert said. 

He said he’s working on another event bringing day school basketball players together with public school players. He also had a game scheduled with Leffell for Monday night.

Meanwhile, Yonkers Public Schools and the city’s mayor, Mike Spano, said an investigation into the antisemitic incident was underway and that the district would embark on counseling and training in response to the incident.

Robin Bosworth, a member of Leffell’s team, wrote in the school’s newspaper that Roosevelt’s team shouted “Free Palestine” and played aggressively, leading to injuries among the Leffell players. 

She said her team ended the game after the third quarter, adding that the attacks “felt extremely personal to me and many members of my team. I have played a sport every athletic season throughout my high school career, and I have never experienced this kind of hatred directed at one of my teams before.”

Leffell’s principal Michael Kay said in a statement that Roosevelt’s athletic director apologized.

Beth Harpaz is a reporter for the Forward. She previously worked for The Associated Press, first covering breaking news and politics, then as AP Travel editor. Email: harpaz@forward.com.

This article was originally published on the Forward.

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