By Jamie Weissman, staff writer, @JamieWeissman
March Madness may have just come to a close, but for some students basketball season is just getting started.
On April 17, the University of Maryland Hillel will host its fifth annual National Hillel Basketball Tournament, also known as the NHBT, an event that brings together Jewish basketball enthusiasts from universities across the nation for a weekend of basketball and camaraderie.
“It’s such an incredible gathering. For students of all backgrounds it’s really a tremendous opportunity,” said sophomore government and politics major Jacob Neumark, co-chairman of the event.
The weekend kicks off with services Friday night, followed by a communal dinner and a planned activity for guests and students.
On Saturday, the players are given the day to relax or sharpen their skills before the tournament, which begins immediately after Shabbat.
“We make a special havdallah right on the court. Afterwards we get into games for a few hours,” Neumark said.
The event, which offers separate men’s and women’s tournaments, continues round-robin style into Sunday morning, allowing each team the opportunity to be seeded. Then bracket play begins.
The event concludes with a championship game and a BBQ for all of the players.
“If you want to see a great example of students coming together, it’s really a great opportunity to do so,” Neumark said.
The tournament board is made up of 19 members who each focus on one aspect of the planning.
“There will be amazing programming, games, speakers, giveaways and chances to meet great kids from all over the country,” said senior marketing major Ross Aroyo, a board member. “I was excited to get involved as a board member because I was given a chance to combine my love for sports with my passion for Judaism.”
The NHBT was founded in 2011 by a group of University of Maryland students who envisioned a tournament that would unite Jewish students from across the country.
Although the tournament is relatively new, the size has grown significantly in its few years of existence.
According to Neumark, one founder returns each year to see the tournament’s progress.
“Every year she comes back she really tells everyone who has been involved about how she never really thought it would get as big as it did. It just [began as] a small tournament,” Neumark said. “The fact that this is basically student run, it’s just amazing. It’s such an incredible gathering.”
The increasing size of the tournament is due in part to the Maryland campus recruitment team.
Neumark said a board of members collectively contacts over 100 Hillels nationwide, and also use personal connections to encourage students to form teams and participate.
Although the main attraction of the weekend is the tournament, Neumark says the Shabbat services throughout the weekend have encouraged non-athletes to attend the event as well.
Last year, over 500 people attended the Shabbat dinner while only 300 of them were athletes.
“A lot of students who go to school in other areas… find this to be a great weekend to see other students,” Neumark said. “I would definitely suggest to anyone who’s interested in Hillel student life or basketball that they come to the tournament. There are not many opportunities that arise like this on college campuses.”