MERCER ISLAND, Wash. — The boys basketball team at a small, local orthodox Jewish school has qualified for the state tournament for the first time in the school's 48-year history.
Only 53 students (boys and girls) attend Northwest Yeshiva High School on Mercer Island, so nearly half of the boys play on the varsity basketball team.
The school was founded in 1974. While the girls basketball team has qualified for state before (making headlines in 2010 when they forfeited instead of playing on their sabbath), the boy's team had not.
In 2022, after a near-half-century drought, the Lions won their district for the first time ever, led by a senior class that has played together since they were in third grade.
They told KING 5 that playing while wearing their religious head coverings, called yarmulkes (or "kippot," in Hebrew), makes this journey even more meaningful because of who and what they represent.
"I feel really proud," said senior Victor Maimon. "All of us play in our kippot every game. People know that we're Jewish. We not only want to do well on the court, but to be respectful to the other team and the referees - to represent Jews and our school and this community. It means a lot."
But the Lions aren't just happy to be there.
"We want to win," said league MVP Yoel Kintzer. "Last year, we thought we'd go to State, but there was no tournament because of covid. But we put in the work, going on runs after school in masks and things like that. It didn't come easy, but we all put in the work, and we knew this year the expectation was - going to State. And now we're here."
The Lions are the third seed in the 1B Tournament.
Their first game is at 9 a.m. on Wednesday at Spokane Arena against Naselle, a small (but somewhat larger) school from the southwest corner of Washington.
If they keep winning, the state championship is Saturday night.