Over the weekend, “March Madness” returned to the Max Stern Athletic Center on Yeshiva University’s Wilf Campus in Washington Heights.  From March 27-31, 20 yeshiva high school basketball teams from across the U.S. and Canada met at YU to battle it out for the top spot in the University’s 23rd Annual Red Sarachek Invitational Basketball Tournament.

As always, the tournament showcased great skill and even greater sportsmanship, and the excitement was palpable throughout.

Though I have covered the tournament for years, I am struck every year by just how fitting the tournament is as a tribute to the legacy of legendary former YU Maccabees coach Bernard “Red” Sarachek, highlighting both good, clean basketball and a focus on bringing the Jewish community together.

While everything about the tournament screams Jewish pride, here are my top 5:

(1) The players have it covered – One can’t help but get goose bumps when witnessing a fierce athletic battle in which every player is proudly sporting a kipa (head covering).  And as you pan out, from the court to the stands, you notice that every screaming fan in the athletic center is a member of “the Tribe.”  What are they screaming?  They are cheering on their home teams and chanting words of consolation to struggling players, regardless of team.

(2) Friends and family – With teams gathering from across North America, Sarachek reminds us “locals” that there is Jewish life beyond the Tri-State.  As a New Yorker, I sometimes forget how many stellar Jewish educational institutions there are “out of town”…and just how expansive our Jewish family really is.  It’s always nice to bring the ganse mishpacha together.

(3) Jewish Geography – Due to a genetic predisposition, we can’t help but play ‘Jewish Geography’ with every unfamiliar Jewish face we meet.  As such, coaches, players and fans spend the extended weekend asking about their friends and relatives…and making new ones in the process.  By the end of the tournament, each basketball team is also a company of messengers bringing well-wishes and best regards to Jews across the country.

(4) A melting pot – As the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy, there is no better place for the tournament than Yeshiva University.  YU’s unique educational environment and culture – namely the interplay between Torah and secular studies – makes it the perfect venue to teach the tournament participants about Modern Orthodoxy’s “melting pot” ideology.  It’s not enough that these youngsters from diverse communities meet.  They must understand that, though they are different, they are members of the same accepting, extended family.  It’s an important job, and YU makes it look easy.

(5) That Shabbat feeling – In addition to basketball, the long weekend also includes several off-court activities, the highlight of which is a lively Shabbaton.  As you might imagine, the Shabbat programming is even more inspiring than the tournament. Hundreds of boys enjoy the spirit of Shabbat and develop deep, lasting friendships.  These passionate young men are poised for growth, and Sarachek gives them the opportunity to grow spiritually as well.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for next year’s Sarachek Tournament.  It’s one of those rare events that is synonymous with Jewish Pride – no matter who goes home with the trophies, we all come out winners.

[Be sure to check out the NSN “Sarachek Tournament Preview” that aired on ‘JM in the AM’ on March 27. How accurate were our predictions?]