An 11-year-old table tennis player, who is also an Orthodox Jew, was disqualified from a national tournament late last month after one of her matches was scheduled on the Sabbath and, as a result, she opted out of participating in it.
While competing at the 2012 U.S. National Table Tennis Championships in Las Vegas last month, Estee Ackerman, a sixth grader from Long Island in New York, ran into a conflict between her beliefs and the game she aspires to be great at.
"I advanced in my round robin and then we looked at my schedule and saw the next match would be during Friday night, which is our Sabbath, so of course I'm disappointed," Estee told The New York Post.
She added, "I practiced and trained for six months for this. Ping pong is important to me, but my religion of Judaism is also very important to me."
Fortunately, she had to call it quits in just one of several events she participated in – she won a silver in one of them – and her father, Glenn Ackerman, says the family had been expecting the conflict to come up at some point.
Glenn told The Christian Post that they typically take Estee to tournaments that do not conflict with the Jewish Sabbath – which begins Friday evening and ends Saturday evening – but twice a year there are two major tournaments that conflict, and one of them is the U.S. national championships.
"I believe everyone in life has certain things that they love to do, maybe they love to cook, they love to play golf, they love to work, but the Sabbath, unless you're a doctor or a fireman – you have to save people's lives – the Sabbath takes precedence over all these things," said Glenn.
Both his children – he also has a son – have been playing in sanctioned tournaments for about four years. His family ran into a similar issue at the same event in Virginia Beach last year, when his son won a championship but, as a result, the family was forced to stay in the area and attend synagogue "in sweatsuits and sneakers" because there was no time to travel home before the Sabbath.
Glenn said the competition's organizers did a "very good job" in spite of Estee's disappointment, and acknowledged how difficult it would be for them to adjust the schedule of a five-day competition which he says included 60 events, 100 tables and 800 people on such short notice.
"We clearly try to be inclusionary in the manner in which we run our events," Michael Cavanaugh, CEO of USA Table Tennis, told The Post. "Estee entered eight events and played to completion in all but one of them."
Glenn said Estee's sponsor, Killerspin, and her coach have understood since the beginning of their relationship that Estee would not play on the Sabbath. She was first noticed by the company at a tournament in Grand Rapids, Mich., this past July, when she was spotted beating a 30-year-old man at the game.