Brett Diamond works with leagues, makes team sports a reality for shomer Shabbat families
By Deb Silverthorn
Brett Diamond wanted an opportunity for his children to play sports and be able to keep Shabbat; his efforts have led to teams of pre-K and kindergarten children scoring on basketball courts and baseball and soccer fields in North Dallas.
“I wanted my kids to learn to play sports: the rules, the skills — all of it,” said Diamond. “They need to learn how to play the games so that as they get older, they can be competitive and grow to love being active. I wanted all of that while still holding onto the joy that comes from an observant life.”
Diamond, a graduate of Plano Senior High School, was raised at Chabad of Dallas and Congregation Shearith Israel. He grew up playing sports and wanted to give his own children the same opportunities for athletic competition.
With his wife, Roxy, while raising their children Ava, David, Leah and Ella in a shomer Shabbat life, Diamond began hosting and coaching sports teams with practices and games taking place on Sundays and during the week, avoiding Shabbat and all holy days.
With players culled from Akiba Yavneh Academy, Cheder Lubavitch Dallas, Temple Emanu-El ECEC (Early Childhood Education Center) and Torah Day School of Dallas, Diamond is joined in his efforts by Assistant Coaches Justin Kohn, Steven Safra, Michael Shifrin, Christian Unger and Gavi Wolk.
“This community has grown so much since I was a kid,” said Wolk, who, before being a history-making player at the Akiba Yavneh Academy Cougars and Bulldogs, had only pick-up games with friends, without an organized team of those not wanting to play on Shabbat and holy days. Now, it is his son Sammy who is suiting up.
“Brett and I and some of the other coaches grew up here but didn’t know each other. Now we’ve connected and developed great friendships for ourselves and our kids,” said Wolk, who also volunteers with Itzy Ribald, another AYA sports legend, for their daughters’ soccer and basketball teams.
While they are not the only teams who don’t play on Shabbat or holy days, Diamond’s Maccabees are the only group committed together to playing baseball, basketball and soccer. Currently, there is a pre-K team and a team of kindergarten students who, through the course of the seasons, find themselves making goals, shooting hoops and rounding the bases. The teams practice and scrimmage together before competing with other teams of their same age groups.
“We get calls all the time about kids participating but we need more adults committing to coach and help build teams,” said Diamond. “We really do want to grow, and having a league hosted by the J would be incredible.”
The Aaron Family JCC has not in recent years had enough players to create a league but does host practices for requesting teams, and its staff coordinates basketball and soccer games with the YMCA league; baseball is arranged independently through the Spring Valley Athletic Association. Games are set for Sundays, or weekday evenings.
“Ideally, there will be enough players, and teams, to create our own league. We’d love that,” said the J’s Youth Sports Director Todd Kelly. “There just aren’t enough such teams yet but the interest is there and we have a number of teams of little ones, so I hope it will be sooner than later.”
Seeing kids in kippot able to compete also makes Jay Prengler, who coaches a Cougars team, smile. “The goal is to teach the kids how to play, for them to grasp the sports and to be a bridge so that when they get to the grades where they can play on their school’s teams, they’ll be competitive.”
In addition to the Maccabees teams and the Cougars, Adam Diamond (Brett’s brother), Dusty Eber, Ian Lurie, Jacques Ohayon and Ori Raphael are among dedicated parents and coaches helping the next generation score active and community-building experiences.
Making sure their children have a love for physical activity, a healthy learning of competitive spirit and the actual skills of the game is important to everyone involved.
“I grew up a competitive tennis player, my wife Renee was a figure skater and there is so much to learn through sports,” said Mike Shifrin, whose son is on the Maccabees.
When Justin Kohn first saw his son Gaby use his baseball glove to pick up a ball, he was thrilled. In the same moment, he realized he needed to teach him to throw the ball — without tossing the glove along with it.
“Brett has an incredible amount of discipline, perseverance and patience and the kids learn all of that — it’s an honor to watch him,” said Kohn. “The opportunity to be on the fields together, to enjoy sports and still hold to our observance, is wonderful.”
For Diamond and his assistant coaches, whom he says he could not do without, the most important thing is raising their children to be mensches — on and off the field.
“Sports provide real-life challenges and opportunities to exercise those skills,” he says. “We teach the physical skills but also what happens if someone gets hurt and what happens when we win and when we don’t, and how to behave either way.”
Those messages and that spirit guarantee a winning team, no matter the score.