“There is No ‘I’ in ‘Team’,” but There is in “Optional”: Are Optional Sports Practices on Holidays Acceptable?


District Calendar — September 16th was a day off for students due to the Jewish high holiday, Yom Kippur

Sarah Tachau, Radish Associate Editor

What does the word “optional” mean? Consider the context, say your math teacher hands out optional extra credit to improve scores on a test everyone failed. Any given student in this scenario is offered a chance to improve their grade, if they would like to. Now take the exact same situation: your math teacher declares this extra credit is “optional” but only gives the work to a select few, eliminating the opportunity for everyone else. Evidently, doing so would be unfair to those who cannot participate, and if you happened to receive this privilege, you would clearly have an advantage. 

Ironically enough, in a society as hyper-aware as 2021, respect for religious diversity is lacking to the extent that our school district allows “optional” sports practices and clinics on a holiday when Jewish students are fasting. There is an atmosphere of utter obliviousness the day before Yom Kippur, with teachers exclaiming, “Enjoy your day off!” But perhaps this goodbye remark is said with positive intent. After all, who doesn’t love a good 25-hour-long fast?

Though Yom Kippur is the most recent example, additional district religious holidays such as Good Friday have optional practices. However, the main holidays of the Catholic and Protestant Christian Calendar, Easter and Christmas, do not have such practices or clinics. Evidently, the unit on religion in seventh grade does not offer a general understanding of our school’s religious holidays.

To be fair, the importance of this concern is dwarfed by certain social issues that the Radnor student body has protested in the past, such as the walkout for racial diversity. Furthermore, religious education in no way translates to “let’s turn history class into Bible or Hebrew school.” Rather, a simple acknowledgment of why the district is off from school on the given holiday is sufficient. At the end of the day, the lack of concern for Yom Kippur, in particular, is a topic that must be discussed regardless of its weight in comparison to other community issues. 

Yom Kippur is one of the Jewish high holidays, falling shortly after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (also known as that other day students had off this fall). On Yom Kippur, those who observe the holiday fast from sundown to sunset, a 25-hour fast, to strip themselves of distractions and focus on atonement; observers may attend morning and evening services. Notice how a sports clinic, considering that one’s fasting, may not fit into that schedule? Of course, these activities are optional, but does sticking the label “optional” before “practice” or “clinic” make it acceptable? 

Arguably, missing one relaxed practice is not the end of a student’s career in the given sport — taking the day off will not make or break a winning team. However, consider the core values of any team sport. The pillars presented in cliche team-building activities typically revolve around working together, supporting each player, and overall functioning as one unit. And sure, “there is no ‘I’ in ‘team’,” but there is, indeed, an “I” in “optional.” No inclusive team should call their clinic or practice “optional” if some players aren’t given the option to attend. Thus, the time has come to practice what a healthy team preaches, and stop offering these unfair opportunities to student-athletes who cannot participate.