When thinking about the experiences of yeshiva students, cheering at a pep rally is not one that usually comes to mind. However, on December 14, Yavneh Academy held its first-ever pep rally, where, according to Head of School Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, “close to 1,000 people joined to say welcome to our new gym.” Part pep rally, and part Chanukat HaBayit, students, teachers, administrators, staff and parents enjoyed a spirited hour, introducing all nine of Yavneh’s sports teams to their beautiful, new home.
According to Pamela Scheininger, president of the board of trustees, “the need for a new gym has been evident for a long time. Our growing student body has created a need for more gym space as well as more indoor play space.” Having two gyms will afford all Yavneh students space to run around, regardless of the weather.
Coach Aliza Hiller and Coach Bill Calise, Yavneh’s physical education teachers, are excited that students now have ample space in which to play when indoor recess is necessary. They are also thrilled that now they can teach simultaneously in two separate locations instead of in one shared space. According to Hiller, “The new gym is awesome. From a physical education perspective, fewer kids in the gym at a time gets more of them moving.” Coach Bill added, “The older kids love that they have room to play the way that they want to play.”
Scheininger says that the new gym “reflects Yavneh’s commitment to educating the whole child. In addition to past projects that have created multiple spaces for academic, emotional and social growth, this creates a space for health and fitness. It allows our teams to grow to their full potential, and is an extension of the importance of health and wellness for us.”
In the spring of 2014, Scheininger said, “three donors developed a plan that addressed the financial and logistical challenges of building a new gym.” Yavneh was able to work together with the Borough of Paramus, where gym space is at a premium. Yavneh “partnered with the Borough of Paramus to make the gym available for use at times when Yavneh is not in session.”
According to Scheininger, the idea of a pep rally to celebrate the completion of the new gym arose in part because “the gym has been in the making for a very long time. The pep rally is an opportunity to celebrate. It reflects our commitment to health and wellness, the Yavneh community and the larger community as a whole.”
The day of the pep rally began with an act of chesed through a “Hoop-a-Thon” organized by middle school students, whose advisory program, according to Rabbi Knapp, “includes components of making a difference in the world.” At the Hoop-a-Thon, “all students in grades 1-8 had the opportunity to participate in Hoops for Israel and shoot baskets in Yavneh’s new gym. Funds raised were divided equally between United Hatzalah of Israel and One Family Fund.” He said that it was important to begin the day this way, because “while we celebrate our good fortune and move forward, we want our children to associate it with caring for those less fortunate.”
A few hours after the Hoop-a-Thon, the students’ excitement was palpable as children from pre-K through 8th grade made their way back into the new gym. Yavneh’s own young cheerleaders, outfitted in the school’s colors of red and white, got everyone energized. Students and faculty alike were also wearing red and white, and showcased their Yavneh swag, from kippot and sweatshirts to foam fingers and rally towels.
The pep rally began when the brand-new Yavneh Redhawk mascot burst into the gym, followed by introductions of all nine of Yavneh’s athletic teams, encompassing soccer, basketball and hockey.
The raucous excitement quieted down as the Junior Chorus led the singing of Hatikvah followed by The Star Spangled Banner. The Yavneh cheerleaders then performed two cheers, after which everyone got up for a school-wide dance.
DJ Ari Greene then introduced the new Yavneh Redhawks song, which the students quickly learned and happily sang. The pep rally culminated with a video starring the new Redhawks mascot, and highlighted the teams and athletics at Yavneh. The video featured cameos by teachers, administrators and even preschoolers. While the video was supposed to mark the end of the pep rally, many middle school students continued the celebration with spontaneous simcha dancing.
It is difficult to adequately describe the energy, warmth, spirit and camaraderie that took place in the gym. It will undoubtedly become a place for the Yavneh community to come together to play, learn and support each other and those around them.
Chesed above all was clearly the message of the day. In his comments to students during the pep rally, Rabbi Knapp said, “Every time you come into the gym, think of how you can help other people. You need to know that the way we keep score is with tzedakah, whether by giving money or treating people with kindness. That is more significant than anything on the scoreboard, and is the most important way that we win.”
By Robin Tare