May 20, 2024
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A Winning JEC Basketball Team that Plays By “The Book”

Scoring points and winning games are ordinarily the main objectives of a sports team. In youth and scholastic leagues, budding young players also learn the meaning of teamwork as they set down their foundational skills. Under the capable and refined stewardship of Coach Yehuda Heller, himself an alumnus of the JEC basketball program; this year’s team has steamrolled the league in every category. At this writing, the JEC basketball team holds an impressive record of 9 wins and 0 losses; they are poised for the league championship and a playoff season that holds great promise.

But there’s a great deal more going on here than meets the scoreboard. It’s one thing to have the good fortune of talented players and a bench that’s deep. It’s quite another to be a team of young teenagers who focus on the peripherals of the experience. Everybody wants to win. But for this team; winning has many layers of meaning, and most of them less to do with the scoreboard, and more to do with Kiddush Hashem and the life lessons they are reaping.

Rami Rozehzadeh, who is also one of the team captains, assumes the role naturally and humbly, according to the coach. He has mastered many skills in the game, and adjusts his playing intensity according to the demand. His shot selection and totals are impressive, but Coach Heller underscores other qualities as his greatest assets. He leads by example and is more concerned with team play than personal glory. He is as likely to sink a three-point basket as he is to pass, affording other players the opportunity to shoot as well. “Rami is much older than his years.”

This winning JEC team is one of the smallest in the league. Yosef Heller is the tallest player, under six feet. Some of the guards are barely over five feet! But on this unique team, little is mighty. Frequently in this age group, when substitutions occur, they’re often seen holding back, out of synch, like deer in the headlights. But not this team. The non-starters on this team look and act exactly like the starters coming off the bench. You witness a seamless transformation of the team to its roster revision.

In a recent heated game against Hillel, the play was aggressive; the lead was volleyed back and forth throughout the game. Both teams played with intensity. Depending upon who told the story, there was an abundance of missed calls while extensive and undetected rough play occurred, especially under the basket. But Coach Heller trains his players how to play to the officiating ref. “Coach tells us to adjust,” said Rozehzadeh about the refs. And so the entire team adjusts. Eitan Speyer adds, “Don’t mind the refs…just play the game.” Coach Yehuda Heller himself addresses this issue with elegant simplicity, “Unless you hear a whistle; you play. Nothing else exists but the question: Am I doing everything I can in this moment?” These guys embody the true spirit of teamwork. Gershon Friedman said, “We pass a lot, not like MJ,” referring to the “one-manship” of the immortal Michael Jordan.

As spectators were dispersing, a grandmother of the losing team rushed Erika Sauerhoff, the grandmother of both the coach and the center, Yosef Heller. “You should be so proud,” she said through her tears, and literally threw herself into Sauerhoff’s arms. “Your coach and the team are in their team room reciting Tehillim.” Fran Manzon, grandmother of players Akiva Sapeika and Gavi Ness also witnessed the unexpected outpouring of admiration as she was leaving. “It was a true Kiddush Hashem,” she stated, “a stellar moment in time,” especially since it was done in private, not intended for public fanfare.

Coach Heller commented,“Our spirit embraces how challenges are met, what meaning is found in disappointments, and the gratitude and humility that can be shown following a success.” Many don’t recognize that winning graciously and humbly can be as intense a challenge of character as losing—albeit a more fun one. Heller strives to break through the ceiling of “perceived potential” and inculcate how important it is to him not to allow a player’s potential to go to waste. An amazing formula; no wonder they are such a winning team.

By Ellie Wolf

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