Ramaz Rams Take on L.A.

Ramaz+Rams+Take+on+L.A.

Four days of basketball, nineteen teams, two hundred and fifty players, hundreds of spectators, and thousands of fans watching via live-stream. For the first time in history, the Ramaz girls and boys varsity basketball teams had the privilege of participating in the annual Glouberman Tournament at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles, an event that can aptly be described as the Yeshiva’s League’s own version of  “March Madness.” The tournament was created five years ago in memory of Steve Glouberman Z”L. From October 31 to November 4, Jewish basketball teams from across the country traveled to Los Angeles, where they competed against one another in an effort to become the tournament’s champions.

In the opening assembly, Flora Glouberman, Mr. Glouberman’s widow, spoke about Steve and his love for basketball and the importance of being a true team player both on and off the court. His legacy is one of perseverance, community, family and love. Ms. Glouberman’s words set the tone for the spirit of the games that would follow over the next four days, where a passion for basketball filled the gyms. Participants enjoyed the opportunity to come together with fellow players and play their hearts out in a friendly and positive environment. Tom Shemia ’19 noted that playing in the Glouberman Tournament wound up being “an amazing and truly memorable experience.”

While any stresses were long forgotten the moment the players landed in LAX,  the weeks leading up to the tournament were filled with excitement and anticipation as students hustled to arrange makeup sessions for classwork and tests that would be missed. Team members also made sure to purchase new Ramaz “merch” to show off their school spirit. On October 31, 2018 the athletes hugged their friends goodbye, stuffed thoughtfully provided chocolate chip muffins into the last remaining inches of free space in their suitcases, and changed into their permitted “airport attire” of sweatpants and logoed sweatshirts. Rap music blasted from a speaker as they made their descent to JFK.  I felt like I was a celebrity with 15 six-foot-tall bodyguards when we were walking around the airport,” Olivia Sakai ’20 explained in awe of the height of some of the members of the boys basketball team. She continued, “I never realized how big they were!”

When the teams landed in Los Angeles, they made their way their accommodations. The students slept in groups of two or three at the homes of members of the Jewish community of Beverlywood, who graciously hosted all of the tournament’s participants. The athletes received a good night’s sleep to prepare for the big day ahead, which began bright and early with a 6:30 AM wake-up and an 8:00 AM game.

On the first day of the tournament, each team played two games: the girls played SAR and Katz Yeshiva High School of South Florida, making their record one and one, while the boys played SAR and MTA, making their record two and zero. The Shalhevet School was generous enough to arrange food stands from their favorite local eateries for players to refuel between games. They also gifted each player with tournament swag featuring their individual school’s logos. Throughout the day, the teams enjoyed cheering each other on, meeting new kids, and reuniting with friends from other schools. The scene at Shalhevet, Gabby Schwartz ’20 said, “felt like  Simchat Torah: everyone was reuniting with their camp friends!” Over the next three days, the Ramaz teams played four more games, experiencing both tough losses and incredible victories. In the end, the girls team placed fourth and the boys team placed in third.

The most unexpected, and what many considered the best, outcome of the tournament surprisingly took place back in NYC, and not in LA. Throughout the tournament, live streams of the games, featuring running commentary by student broadcasters from Shalhevet High School’s newspaper The Boiling Point, brought the excitement of the games to fans back at home. The games were broadcast on a screen in the Fourth Floor lounge to a crowd that was said to have reached up to 80 students at points. Students also viewed the games on their mobile devices throughout the day. The energy level rose so much so that many teachers exempted students from class, allowing them to cheer on their classmates from 3,000 miles away. “It felt like I was at the World Cup!” Amanda Koptiev ’19 exclaimed as she reacted to the cheering in the lounges. Chai Katz ’21 added, “Everyone was mosh-pitting. I truly never saw the Ramaz students act with this much spirit before!” Although the players were thousands of miles away from the scene, news of the overwhelming support reached their attention and motivated them to play their hardest during the games.  School President and Co-Captain of the Varsity Basketball team Becky Tauber said, “It was really amazing seeing videos of so many kids back at Ramaz getting excited about the games in LA. It’s not every day that I get to see the students so spirited. It made me realize the potential that we have to unify and get excited about the things going on around school.”

Another highlight of the tournament was Shabbat, where players had a chance to bond with their teammates and also with new friends from other Jewish day schools. The weekend began with a beautiful outdoor Kabbalat Shabbat in the backyard of one of the hosts. The teams then had dinner together at the homes of local families and later “enjoyed the copakabanger at the shul with all of the teams in the tournament,” said Matan Makharadze ’19. The next morning the teams davened and ate lunch at Beth Jacob Synagogue. During the afternoon, they were given free time to relax and explore the community before convening at the home of one of the hosts for Seudah Shlishit.

The most well-attended, and one of the most exciting, games of the tournament took place on Motzei Shabbat, when the Ramaz boys team took on the hosts, Shalhevet. The gym was packed to its maximum capacity, with many fans camping outside to try and catch the game through the gym windows. The intensity was high as the fans cheered fervently and loudly from the sidelines. Special appearances by Ramaz alumni from the L.A. community  (one of whom came dressed in a vintage Ramaz Varsity Basketball jacket circa late eighties-early nineties), as well as more recent Ramaz graduates attending local LA universities, added even more energy to the evening. Members of the girl’s team made a special pre-game trip to Party City to get all decked out in blue and yellow (Ramaz’s team colors). Ms. Benus, who chaperoned the trip, said, “My favorite part was being the #1 cheerleader. It gave me a good excuse to wear my favorite Ramaz apparel during the week!”  Captain Aaron Shapira ’19 advised the nervous team to “keep up the high intensity” and “give it their all.” Although the boys did not end up winning the game, they maintained a good attitude during the game. Their spirits were lifted when, after the game, player held an after party at Schnitzly, the legendary schnitzel restaurant located on Pico Boulevard.

In addition to Ms. Benus, the Ramaz teams were chaperoned by Rabbi Slomnicki. Rabbi Slomnicki practiced what he likes to call “chill mode” throughout the trip. “We were playing nicely and the girls and boys were unified.” Rabbi Slomnicki, along with other parents who accompanied the team on the trip, expressed their team-spirit from the benches as they cheered on the players.

“The support and pride from the classrooms and lounges during the game is something I wish would happen in our own Ramaz Gym,” ”

— Ms. Benus

 

Ms. Benus said. She continued, “We should have the same amount of spirit during a game on our home court, not just while watching from a livestream.”

Over the course of the four days, students also had the chance to experience Los Angeles culture by visiting local destination like the Grove and Santa Monica Pier.

Students documented these activities on their social media accounts. They also created a Video Star which perfectly summed up all of the incredible experiences into a three minute clip set to the song “Party in the USA.” Despite the fact that the neither team returned home as the victors, the experience of playing in tournament wound up being “a win” in and of itself.