Davis retired Friday after 18 years as the Jewish school's athletic director, proclaiming equality in treatment of the Saturday Sabbath as his best career achievement.
Jed Davis is searching for a new morning mantra.
The one where the Northwest Yeshiva athletic director glances over at his wife and paraphrases the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) handbook – “no student shall be denied access to any activity on the basis of race or religion” – has expired. In a hard-fought ending to his 18-year run at the school that adheres to traditional Torah values, Davis succeeded in achieving equality in participation in state tournaments regardless of religious beliefs.
In May, the WIAA reached a settlement for a lawsuit Davis spearheaded, where accommodations were made for the Class 1B and 2B state volleyball tournament for schools that recognize the Saturday Sabbath.
Instead of a Friday-Saturday format, the WIAA approved a Thursday-Friday (Nov. 9-10 for the 2017 season) tournament schedule to be played at the Yakima Valley SunDome.
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“That guiding principal kept me alive,” said Davis, who began his quest and mantra in 2009. He retired Friday as athletic director at Northwest Yeshiva, but will continue his position as basketball coach at the Seattle Hebrew Academy.
“The fact that we got this volleyball accommodation with days left in my career,” Davis said. “This is the greatest (retirement) gift that I could possibly ask for. I’m so happy for the girls. It’s all I’ve wanted.”
Davis founded the athletic department at Northwest Yeshiva in 1999 when students played sporadic intramural basketball games at the Jewish Community Center in Mercer Island.
He worked tirelessly to change the casual approach to sports for the school that averages 100 students. Northwest Yeshiva’s first team to advance to state was the 2010 girls basketball team, which lost in the opening round. The volleyball team followed in 2011, but Davis said after being led to believe the school would be accommodated by the WIAA, it wasn’t, disqualifying them from competing.
Across the state, Walla Walla Valley Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist school, was in a similar predicament. Under coach/athletic director Scott Schafer, the Knights are a volleyball powerhouse in Class 2B.
WWVA annually jockeyed Dayton for the top spot in the former Southeast and current Eastern Washington Athletic Conference. Schafer is 59-16 overall since 2012, but because the school recognizes the Saturday Sabbath, it always knew the district title game was the end of the season.
The Saturday Sabbath is from sundown on Friday until sundown Saturday. Time is focused on family and faith, Orthodox Jews also not using electricity or driving.
“You have to understand, amongst Adventist schools, competitive athletics didn’t really become a thing until the 1980s, so we’re 120 years behind every other school,” Schafer said about the longstanding acceptance at not advancing to state despite merit.
“As that started to go away, it’s been this slow process,” said Schafer, whose school joined the WIAA in 1995-96. “We realized our potential and then there were people upset that our kids couldn’t go to state … but some come from the biblical part of if there’s a problem, you try to sort it out, we’re not going to be suing people.”
However, based on his history with the WIAA, Davis knew the governing body had to be pushed into an accommodation. He first met Schafer through their schools playing each other in basketball and the alleged religious discrimination against their successful volleyball teams was often a topic.
In 2015, parents representing 12 student-athletes from Northwest Yeshiva (Mercer Island), Walla Walla Valley Academy and Puget Sound Adventist Academy (Kirkland) filed suit in King County Superior Court in October. Attorney Aric Bomsztyk tried the case pro bono.
The bulk of Bomsztyk’s time was devising three alternatives to the volleyball state tournament schedule. The past double-elimination format involved 48 teams across three classifications played in two days on six different courts at the Yakima SunDome.
Those complexities, WIAA executive director Mike Colbrese wrote in an email, is why it took years to find a doable accommodation.
“It was like Sudoku,” Bomsztyk said of cracking the code. “But, because there are a whole bunch of Christian schools who won’t play on Sunday for basically the same reasons we won’t play on Saturday, that was the crux of our case … Through the trial, I was able to understand, there is a burden involved in making an accommodation. More importantly, the WIAA, from the people I met, they really cared and wanted to do the right thing.”
Schafer and Bomsztyk agreed that Davis was the most passionate and articulate on the stand during the weeklong proceeding. His most powerful words were when he spoke about the meaning of going to state.
“It’s more than winning and rah-rah,” Davis recalled of his testimony. “Any time you can take a young person and help them set their sights high in life, you’ve done a really good job as an educator. Whether you’re a team that’s going to win one match or three, you have that dream there. You know, if things go right, you can make it to state.”
That possibility is where the story ends for Davis and Schafer, who in June was named the new volleyball coach at Walla Walla University. But Northwest Yeshiva scheduled its first summer open gyms for volleyball to begin training for a new chapter of the program.
“Jed leaves a legacy of somebody who imparted on the Jewish community how important sports are to youth development,” Bomsztyk said. “I’m so glad we were able to get this for him and the students. And hopefully it sends a message to other states that there is a way to look at these (tournaments) and make it fair for everybody.”