By Joseph Tuchman, University of Maryland Class of 2016
Have you ever wondered what happened to all the Jewish high school basketball stars that were featured on JVElite or at the Yeshiva University Red Sarachek Tournament?
A good number of them show up each year for the National Hillel Basketball Tournament at the University of Maryland. For the many nostalgic Jewish students who truly miss their days playing organized basketball in high school, the Hillel tournament offers a chance to re-live the days when all that mattered was their school’s ranking in the Yeshiva League or their seed in the state tournament. The tournament embodies a dynamic intersection between competitive basketball and Jewish camaraderie. Encompassing exciting and fierce events on the court, the tournament offers students a chance to make friends, spend a weekend with one of the most vibrant Jewish campus communities, and, of course, play some basketball.
Over the past two years, this non-profit, student-organized initiative has quickly become the largest inter-collegiate basketball tournament for Jewish students and has raised crucial funds to support Jewish life on campuses across the United States. This year’s tournament will be held at the University of Maryland, College Park from April 12th to 14th and will attract over 1,200 participants including 300 players from over 30 universities.
The tournament has been a huge success since its inception two years ago, even bringing in NCAA athletes from Yeshiva University and Goucher College. 2013’s tournament will feature many returning colleges, as well as some new ones. Some of the many teams hail from the University of Wisconsin, Baruch College, Washington University in St. Louis, Columbia University, Barnard College, Queens College, Stern, UMass Amherst, Goucher College, New York University, Boston University, Rutgers University, Yeshiva University, and of course, the University of Maryland.
One of the many things making this tournament so impactful is the number of students it attracts. Players as well as fans from all over the country come to partake in the tournament. Observant, less affiliated and unaffiliated Jewish students alike see this as an opportunity to spend a weekend in a Jewish environment and mingle with students from around the country.
Many students at the University of Maryland take time to help organize this weekend tournament, and the work they put in is noticeable when in the Reckord Armory in College Park. Whether they are managing the logistics of the weekend, keeping score, taking photos, updating the website, or refereeing, this tournament is a complete result of student collaboration.
Beyond student involvement, the tournament’s presenting sponsors are New York-based philanthropists, Dina and Jonathan Leader. They have been active both in terms of financial support and creative input, in order to make 2013 the best year of the tournament yet. Other sponsors include BodyArmor, SuperDrink, and Klipped Kippas.
The tournament festivities commence with a communal Friday night dinner and culminate Sunday afternoon with a ceremony to crown the champions with the Kiddush Cup. Although only some players will leave with the sanctified Kiddush Cup, each and every student involved in the tournament, whether as a fan, player or staffer, will walk away with a Jewish experience that they will never forget – an experience that only the National Hillel Basketball Tournament hosted by the University of Maryland can offer.