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Pikesville school missed mock trial final that fell on Passover

Though it qualified for the 2019 Maryland high school mock trial finals, Beth Tfiloh was denied the chance to compete for the championship on April 26 because the last round fell on the holy penultimate day of Passover and no reasonable accommodation could be made for the Jewish school’s students, organizers of the annual competition said.

Instead, Richard Montgomery High School was crowned champion after defeating Baltimore City College — the team it had also beaten the day before in the semifinals.

In the other semifinal match, Beth Tfiloh High School, in Pikesville, beat Salisbury’s James M. Bennett High School and would have headed to the final round but for the students’ religious observance and the organizers’ inability to change the date of the championship, which fell within the final days of Passover, a time of rest on the Jewish calendar.

Maryland Youth & the Law, which organized the event, flipped a coin to determine which of the losers in the semifinal round would face off against Richard Montgomery for the championship. Baltimore City College won the toss against James M. Bennett.

MYLaw’s board chair, Barry L. Gogel, said Tuesday that changing the date was strongly considered but was not feasible because the first available day for the schools was in June, a time when students — particularly graduating seniors — are “starting to scatter like the wind.”

“If it’s not feasible, it’s not reasonable,” said Gogel, of the law firm Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC in Baltimore.

However, in recognition of Beth Tfiloh’s success, the school will be listed in all publications and records of the 2019 competition as having been a “finalist,” Gogel said when asked of Beth Tfiloh’s request that it be named a co-champion.

“I have deep sympathy for the situation and deep admiration for Beth Tfiloh in placing its religious values over the competition,” Gogel said. “The board has considered that (co-champions accommodation) and we don’t think that’s fair to Richard Montgomery. We feel that forever listing Beth Tfiloh as a finalist will honor their achievement and recognize the admirable decision they made.”

Zipora Schorr, Beth Tfiloh’s education director, called the “finalist” designation “a good-faith effort” on the part of MYLaw, a Baltimore-based nonprofit organization that supports programs to teach students about the law and the judicial system.

“That said, did you ever play sports?” Schorr said. “There’s no such thing as almost winning. Almost winning is losing.”

Schorr said she plans to call Richard Montgomery officials and ask if the Rockville team would be willing to compete against Beth Tfiloh as the rightful finalist. If so, she said, she would call MYLaw and arrange a courtroom and a judge for a true championship round.

“Given the religious nature of the forfeiture, there still could be the possibility to play the team that was crowned the champion and let the better team win,” Schorr said. “I am prepared to accommodate their schedule if at all possible and compete against them whenever we can arrange that.”

Damon Monteleone, Richard Montgomery’s principal, did not return an email message Tuesday seeking comment about Beth Tfiloh’s concern.

Regardless of the outcome, Schorr said she was “very proud” of Beth Tfiloh’s team members for not compromising their religious principles.

“This is a Sandy Koufax moment,” Schorr said, referring to the Hall of Fame Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher who refused to play in the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

“There was no question that they weren’t going to play on a holiday,” Schorr said.

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