A second-grade Level 4 gymnast from Teaneck made headlines this week, not for her prowess on the bars and beam but because she couldn’t compete in a state competition held last Shabbat.

Amalya Knapp’s parents, Chavie and Stephen, had sought advice from a local Orthodox rabbi and were told the event would not be appropriate for the Sabbath. Through her coach at the U.S. Gymnastics Development Center in Leonia, the family asked if Amalya could compete for the individual state title on Saturday night or Sunday, but the USA Gymnastics Association ruled that her Sunday participation would count only toward her team’s score.

“Amalya was devastated when she found out,” Chavie Knapp told The Jewish Standard. “But she chose to [accept that option], understanding that her hard work will only pay off for her team, and not for individual awards or for her own ranking.”

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Amalya Knapp KNAPP FAMILY

The Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey student has taken first place in five of nine Level 4 competitions in which she’s performed, and on Sunday she achieved her highest overall score of the year. “Amalya’s coaches really made her feel a part of it,” said her mother. “She worked hard and she felt great about it.”

That day, Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic) heard about the controversy and wrote to Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics that “[a]s the first and only Orthodox Jewish member of the New Jersey Legislature, I find this situation unacceptable.” He urged President Steve Penny “to make appropriate accommodations for children such as Miss Knapp in the future.”

Schaer told the Standard that he does not represent the Knapps’ district, but felt compelled to step in as the author of seven laws against religious discrimination. “I believe it is incumbent upon all of us in New Jersey, not just Orthodox Jews, to join together to ensure full and equal participation by members of all communities in social, athletic, and other aspects of life here.”

He recalled that in 2005, the mock trial team of Teaneck’s Torah Academy of Bergen County was barred from competing in national rounds held on a Saturday, until Rep. Steve Rothman (D-9) and the New Jersey Bar Foundation and Bar Association successfully lobbied for a change in policy.

USA Gymnastics issued a statement in response to Schaer that it “understands how personal choices and conflicts can affect an athlete’s participation and does its best to reasonably provide alternatives, when possible…. Per USA Gymnastics’ rules and policies, if an athlete cannot compete during the assigned session due to religious reasons or valid unforeseen circumstances, the athlete may compete on another day (or in another session)…. If the gymnast cannot participate in a session for the correct skill level and age group, the athlete is not eligible for individual awards and medals…. These rules and policies were followed in Amalya Knapp’s situation, and the event organizers did their best to reasonably accommodate her with a competitive opportunity.”

Chavie Knapp said she’d be “thrilled” if the policy were changed as a result of Schaer’s efforts, but stressed that she and her husband are not bitter. “We are feeling very positive and supported, and we’re trying to make this a learning opportunity for Amalya. At the end of the day, Shabbat trumps everything else, and the spirit of it is as important as the rest.”