Jewish High School Basketball and The Fighting Sioux

Yesterday, voters in North Dakota voted to do away with the University of North Dakota’s mascot, the Fighting Sioux. If you would like more detail, or for some reason don’t believe me, here’s a real news source:

Voters in North Dakota on Tuesday overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal to abolish the state university’s “Fighting Sioux” nickname and Indian head logo, banned under a national college sports policy that deems such symbols as racially offensive.

More than 67 percent of voters supported the move that will allow the University of North Dakota to end its use of the nickname and logo – based on a Native American caricature – in order to avoid possible sanctions by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

– North Dakota voters nix ‘Fighting Sioux’ team name – Reuters

The decision to re-name the team took me back to the Fall of 2004 – specifically, to my first editorial piece published in Northwest Yeshiva High School’s student newspaper, Between the Lines.*

*you may recall that the pages of this illustrious publication at one time also hosted a certain terrorist instigator

For your benefit, I have reproduced the article as it originally appeared, edited mostly for length and minimally for content. You’ll get an idea of just how long ago 2004 was by the end of paragraph two. Spoiler alert: we’re coming up on 8 years, and NYHS has yet to take my advice:

The key to marketing is name recognition. What a product is called is often as important as the quality of the product itself.

This concept also applies to team names. When choosing a name, the city or organization a team represents must be taken into account. For example, Seattle is a port city, and its baseball team is the Mariners. It is the birthplace of Boeing, and its basketball team is the Supersonics.

When Northwest Yeshiva High School chose a team name, it settled on “613s‟. Consequently, the name is meant to represent our school in the eyes of both its students and the general public. It has failed in both respects.

While the link between Northwest Yeshiva and the number 613 is obvious to its students, there is nothing particularly exciting about the number of commandments in the Torah. 613s is akin to a team from Philadelphia being named the “Sevens‟ after the number of articles in the Constitution. Obviously, a team named after a number is a preposterous proposition.

Furthermore, the link between the school and 613 is not obvious to those who don’t know what the number represents. Quick thought experiment: Imagine a guy off the street trying to match schools in our league to their team names. Matching Eastside Catholic to “Crusaders” would be considerably easier than placing the “613s” – not knowing what the number represents, an outsider could easily attach it to any number of schools.

This is unfortunate, because the league includes only one Jewish school, and its name should make that fact immediately identifiable. Just as the “Northwest Yeshiva Crusaders” sounds wrong for obvious reasons, so too, should the Jewish school’s name sound wrong when coupled with “Eastside Catholic‟.

Therefore, when determining what might be a recognizable name for the Yeshiva’s team, one must take into account that your typical non-Jew is largely unfamiliar with Judaism, and NYHS would be well-served by a name recognizable to those versed in American – but not necessarily Jewish – culture.

One recent Hollywood release concerning Jews is Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. It might seem that this offers an obvious answer: the movie’s main character is easily identifiable as Jewish!

Unfortunately, not even the ‘Kentview Christian Jesuses’ seems like a good idea.

I have a better one: in The Passion, the Pharisees were the establishment rabbis opposed to Jesus’ heresy. They serve as precursors to the Jews of today, and could easily excite the Yeshiva’s fan base. Unlike “Crusaders‟, Pharisees would belong to our Jewish school alone: any Christian school that attempted to appropriate it would be branded heretical, its members banished to hell for eternity. Certainly, this is not a fate they wish to share with us.

One might be understandably concerned by the deicidal nature of the name “Pharisees‟. But to single out the name for condemnation – without giving similar treatment to other common high school team names – would be insensitive and hypocritical. For example, the Crusaders, at least from my perspective, were a marauding band of Christians who killed tens of thousands of Jews in Europe and thousands more in the Holy Land. Certainly, Northwest Yeshiva High School has as strong a case against “Crusaders‟ as anyone might bring against “Pharisees‟. Similarly, some of the most common team names in America include “Redskins‟, “Braves‟, and other names derogatory toward Native Americans.

Northwest Yeshiva High School needs a new team name. “Pharisees‟ is the obvious choice.

Appropriately, yesterday’s vote in North Dakota was held on June 13, or 6-13. (Hashgacha pratis – NYHS must be so proud.)


In the process of searching Google Images for something to use as a featured image (the one that appears above the article), I was sad to discover that the first result for ‘Northwest Yeshiva High School’ looks like this:

At least when you regular-Google ‘Northwest Yeshiva High School’ it shows Google Maps, and not a picture. That would be the worst neo-Google Bomb yet (ironic, huh?).

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7 thoughts on “Jewish High School Basketball and The Fighting Sioux”

  1. The name pharisees doesn’t strike fear into the other team, which is a decent trait for a team name to have. I would suggest, something that is both culturally Jewish and terrifying to opponents: The Northwest Yeshiva High School Circumcisors.

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      1. Nah, if you’re not ignorant then you know what it means, but I don’t think it’s the most appropriate name for a sports team. There is no sense of excitement around it – more like, reverence. That goes double for 613, though that sounds kind of lame. It is also arrogant to suggest that only your team can personify the values associated with that year or that number, and makes the sport much more serious than it should be. That makes less of a difference in a team with only one Jewish team, but I still don’t see why we should indulge in this impulse to bring some kind of real-world gravitas to a friggin’ sports team. No need. Let it go, choose some wild bird or beast and be done with it. Then, go out, and play your all, end of frakkin’ story.
        Oh, and given the negative connotations of the word ‘Pharisee’ in American society, using it would amount to a poor attempt to reclaim a word most observant Jews don’t innately identify with, even if they are aware enough of Jewish history to understand who they were. Really, it’s unnecessary at best and damaging at worst.

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