" Rochelle Zell wasn’t just going to a part of me for four years but for the rest of my life."
By Steve Sadin, Special to the Tribune
3:10 p.m. CDT, March 17, 2014
Doing more with less is the hallmark of the Chicagoland Jewish High School boys basketball program.
Less can mean fewer practice days because of the Sabbath or a crowded gym. It also can mean no summer program to develop athletes. Despite all that, the Tigers have won the Class 1A Illinois High School Association regional championship the last two seasons, advancing to the sectional title game.
“We don’t practice on Friday or Saturday,” coach Marty Dello said, because athletes observe the Jewish Sabbath. “We can’t even get in our gym every day,” because the school’s one practice facility is shared with the girls team and all underclass squads.
Dello and his players compensate by making the most of the practice time they have. When they do not have a gym available, they watch film to learn what to expect from opponents and what mistakes not to repeat.
“When we practice, we really concentrate,” Jeremy Goodman of Skokie said. “When we’re in basketball we don’t slack off. If we only have two hours, we make the most of it.”
In summer, when most high school teams are playing in organized programs, the Tigers are nowhere to be found.
“This is the first Illinois program I’ve been in where we don’t run a summer camp or program,” Dello said. Before taking the Chicagoland Jewish job in 2011, he coached six years at Barrington, where he still teaches, three years at Crystal Lake South and 10 years at the college level.
Still, the players have been living together and bonding each summer since at least 2006.
“A lot of us started playing basketball together at camp,” Avidan Halivni of Deerfield said. “We’ve been together since fifth grade at (Camp) Ramah (in Wisconsin). We built chemistry.”
The Tigers also take a five-week break in the middle of the year, playing a shorter season than the average Illinois high school program.
“They don’t touch a basketball for five weeks,” Dello said. “Winter break starts Dec. 21, and we don’t play then. On Jan. 5, there is the senior trip to Israel for three weeks.”
Dello has no complaints about the time spent abroad.
“They leave boys and come home men,” Dello said. “It’s a life-changing experience for them.” All have been to Israel before, but the responsibility is different during this trip.
“We were given a lot of freedom,” Halivni said. “It was the first time we were all on our own. It was the first time CJ (Chicagoland Jewish High School) treated us like adults, allowing us to be out on our own.”
This year, the Tigers lost 50-35 March 8 in the sectional championship game to Mooseheart, the eventual 1A state champ.
“We came back better leaders on the basketball court,” Joshua Silverman of Skokie said.
The Illinois High School Association had scheduled the game on March 7, a Friday night. When the Tigers topped Westminster Christian of Elgin to advance to the title game, the IHSA switched it to Saturday night.
The team left Friday for Serena, Ill., to arrive before sunset and to observe the Jewish Sabbath together. They were joined by other students from the school. There were religious services, meals together and conversation.
“They players and I bonded,” Dello, a Lutheran, said. “A lot of education took place. We didn’t talk about basketball. We talked about life, politics, topical things, school.”
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