Berkeley tennis team battles slur by wearing kippot

In a match played March 22, two Arabic brothers from Pleasanton's Amador Valley High reportedly expressed some sour grapes after losing a doubles match to Berkeley.

Their acidic words included what sounded like an anti-Jewish comment, although it wasn't clear whether the term "Jew" or "jerk" was used.

Since the teams were going to confront one another again the following day for a make-up match, the Berkeley team mulled over an appropriate show of solidarity for its Jewish players.

The entire team showed up sporting kippot.

"On one hand, we felt like we should file a complaint with the school," said Andy Hanauer, 17, a senior. "But then we felt like this was a better way to make our point. I even brought some stale matzah to give everyone moral support."

It was no love match.

Hanauer said they were met with an even more vociferous reaction, including chants of "Hitler! Hitler!"

When one Berkeley High player struck the ball, an Amador Valley player jeered, "Play your dreidel," Hanauer said.

The original comment came from two brothers on the Amador Valley team, Berkeley players claim. However, Amador's non-Jewish white players joined the chorus at the onset of the next day's match, they said.

"It's not unusual to get a hostile reaction," Hanauer said. "We win a lot. Plus the league we play in includes a lot of valley schools" from Danville, Pleasanton and cities nearby. "There's a real cultural difference between us and them."

The inland suburban teams are often unaccustomed to the diversity and eclectic style of the Berkeley High teams, especially its tennis team.

"We come a lot more dressed up and spirited," he said. "They tend to be sticklers for the rules. They'll say, 'Hey, you're not all in uniform. That's against the rules.'"

There are "quite a few Jewish kids on the team," said Berkeley High tennis coach Dan Seguin.

But Seguin said he chose to reserve judgment after the incident since his players were not clear if the initial provocative comments included the word "Jew" or "jerk."

He said the incident was not atypical of high school matches.

No one at Berkeley High seemed to be interested in following up the incident with a dialogue with Amador Valley High. The two teams will not face each other for the remainder of the season.

Amador Valley High officials did not return calls by press time.

Rebecca Rosen Lum

Rebecca Rosen Lum is a freelance writer.