After a pandemic-long break, cheering fans filled the Minsk gym bleachers as AJA’s boy’s basketball teams had their first Saturday night game of 2021. The AJA Jaguars faced off against the Weber Rams, with matchups between both the Junior Varsity and Varsity teams. The game was held at AJA, and attendees of the event were charged for admission: five dollars for adults and three dollars for students. After paying, guests gathered in the gym. The spectators consisted of students from both schools, parents, and members of the greater Atlanta Jewish community.
Spirit was abundant and palpable as the Junior Varsity Game started on the court. Jaguar fans cheered with enthusiasm, and AJA’s players fought hard, but, ultimately, the Weber Junior Varsity team prevailed 25 to 13. This win set the tone for the rest of the night, as the Weber’s Varsity team triumphed as well, ending their game with a close score of 64 to 50.
Due to AJA’s long sporting history with Weber, the competition dynamic was very unique. For some of the AJA players, this long-standing competitiveness served as motivation to play their best. Sophomore Noam Landman, an AJA Junior Varsity player, said that “playing against Weber and kids that I know adds another level of intensity to the game.” With the opportunity of these sports games, students from both schools had the chance to reconnect with past classmates and friends they know through the Jewish community. Seating was well integrated, with students from the other schools seated right next to one another. However, the benefits of this social environment were coupled with noticeable effects to audience experience. There were small amounts of “trash talk” directed at both teams, motivated by an implicit “us versus them” mentality that is common in competitive sports. However, all comments were made in good fun, not with hostile intentions.
In terms of food provisions, there was a makeshift concession stand with snacks, and AJA’s Student Council (STUCO) ordered pizza for AJA students. As well, at the end of the game, cupcakes were passed out in honor of Poppy’s birthday, senior Varsity player Yered Wittenberg’s grandfather. STUCO also organized half-court shooting competition during halftime. A long line of students gathered in the middle of the court, and while most shots missed, the crowd celebrated the talented few that made a basket.
A controversial aspect of the game was the contentious topic of face masks. Masks were required for all game-watchers, and a strong majority complied with the rule, with the exception of a few groups of students. In an attempt to mitigate this, an AJA faculty member distributed masks and reiterated the mask policy to rule-breakers. These efforts were partially successful, with a smaller portion of the audience remaining unmasked. In regards to the players, Weber’s players, both benched and actively playing, were not required to be masked. Given this option, their players, with the exception of a few, chose not to wear a mask. In contrast, AJA’s players, without any alternative, remained masked both on the court and while resting.
Overall, despite the face mask disagreement, the basketball game experience was highly enjoyable for the student body. The energy in the room was high and being around so many people made it feel like more than just a basketball game; it was a celebration of being together.