AJA Hosts Flag Football Shabbaton
“Why not Atlanta? Why not us?” AJA Flag Football Coach Justin Katz asked himself. Reflecting on his own fond memories of flag football tournaments, Coach Katz realized that AJA could also host such a tournament. He started envisioning the idea, eventually forming the abstract thoughts into concrete plans, culminating with the very first AJA Spring Flag Football Classic during the last weekend of this past March.
On Thursday, March 24, three other Jewish high schools traveled to Atlanta: Yeshiva of Flatbush (NY), Posnack School (FL), and Margolin Hebrew Academy, referred to by most as Cooper (TN). After a night of introduction and orientation, the competition kicked off early the next morning. The tournament began in the form of a round robin — when each team played against all the other teams to determine their seed.
AJA first competed against the Cooper team. AJA won, beginning their weekend with a victory. Next up, AJA played against Posnack — their “greatest opponent,” according to Josh. While they lost this game, they did not let the loss deter them and “came out strong” for the next game against Flatbush. Ending the round-robin competition with a third win and a record of 2-1, AJA ended up as the second seed.
Friday night, after a day of strenuous competition, the four teams transitioned into a more relaxed Shabbat. However, Shabbat was not entirely void of competition — after Shabbat lunch, the four teams faced off in a trivia competition. After proving their comprehension in topics such as sports, Judaism, Israel, pop culture, and more, the close competition came to an end, with Cooper ending up earning the trivia champion title.
For many, Shabbat served as a time to bond with the students from other schools. Freshman player Zac Agichtein said, “Shabbat was really fun because I got to know the people from the other schools well.” A lot of the bonding occurred through singing; Josh explained that each school shared their tunes to Shabbat songs with the rest of the group. “Each team had something different and something new that other teams could experience,” he said.
The singing stood out as a meaningful moment for lots of the team. Sophomore player Adiel Livnat noted, “One highlight for me was having slow shira with all the different schools and hearing their tunes to songs.” Coach Katz also enjoyed hearing the other schools’ tunes, listing one of his “favorite moments” as when “Yeshiva of Flatbush brought their Sephardi singing to the Shabbat table which really got all the kids involved.” Over the course of the Shabbaton, through these kinds of interactions with “athletes who had the same passion for flag football and Judaism,” Coach Katz said, “we learned a lot about ourselves [and] the sport.”
Shabbat concluded with havdalah led by Ohr HaTorah’s Rabbi Adam Starr and Hillel Glazer with his guitar as accompaniment, and then the teams gathered to see a hypnotist perform. Josh and senior player Elliot Sokol volunteered from the AJA team, and the hypnotist subsequently convinced Josh and Elliot that the hypnotist was eating their best friend, who had turned into a granola bar. Afterwards, the hypnotist made them believe that a wall in the shul was actually the Kotel, which moved Josh and Elliot to tears.
The next morning, the football competition resumed. In the playoffs, AJA faced off against the team from Flatbush. Josh explained that, after reflecting on their games from Friday, the team “made some adjustments” and ended up finishing the game “with a pretty commanding win.” With this victory, AJA earned their spot in the championship game.
The final game took place at AJA, and over 300 people from across the community came to support the AJA Jags. Coach Katz reflected that “the show of support from Atlanta and the broader community” during this game stood out as another highlight of the tournament.
Furthermore, during this game, the team could really feel the difference between hosting a tournament and attending one. “Hosting the tournament was so different than going to a tournament,” Josh said. With having “the crowd” and “all your family and friends there,” it truly created “a different vibe.”
In the championship, AJA competed against Posnack, who had beaten them 27-7 in the round-robin competition. Coach Katz explained that he felt somewhat “concerned we would not be able to compete,” but the team planned to make adjustments and communicate better. As Josh said, “They were the clear favorites, but we weren’t going to let that stop us from trying to win.”
AJA did more than hold their own for the first half of the game, they “even shut them out… which I believe was the first time that has happened in over two years,” Coach Katz remarked. While AJA kept Posnack from scoring at all, AJA scored one touchdown, ending the first half at 7-0.
After the break at half-time, Josh explained that Posnack “upped their intensity and scored two quick touchdowns.” However, he noted, “We weren’t going anywhere; we were here to play.” While AJA did make it all the way down to the one yard line, they did not score another touchdown, and Posnack won the game 13-7.
Although the team “did not have the finish we wanted,” Coach Katz said, “Overall the team excelled… I felt the athletes played their hearts out and left it all on the field.” Furthermore, he believes that “more was learned in losing than would have been learned in winning.”
In addition, the team really had just enjoyed the opportunity to play football. They had fun playing as a team and competing against other schools; Zac also noted that “it was also really fun being on the sidelines cheering on our teammates.” Overall, “The football games were intense and competitive,” sophomore Noam Landman said, and the team had a great experience.
When asked whether he plans to organize the tournament again next year, Coach Katz exclaimed “100%!” After their experiences at this year’s tournament, Coach Katz concluded, “As a coach, I will be better prepared for next year.”
Already, the team is eagerly awaiting the 2023 AJA Spring Flag Football Classic. Reflecting on this past Shabbaton, Noam remarked, “Hosting the first-ever Jewish high school sports tournament in Atlanta was an incredible experience.” He added, “I hope that it only grows from here.” It seems it will, as Coach Katz expects to expand the tournament to six teams next year. Looking towards the future, he sees the tournament continuing to grow as the Shabbaton remains “an event for many years to come.”