The Cougars were forced to forfeit their slot in the playoffs last month because of a scheduling gaffe it was set for Shabbat and fingers are pointing in every direction to assign blame.
One of ”0 teams in the Cerbo National Baseball League, based in Montvale, the Cougars are 15- and 16-year-old boys from Bergen County. They had been set to compete in their first playoff game of the season on Saturday, Oct. ‘0. But most of the team is shomer Shabbat, and before the season began, its coach had told the league that his team could not play on Friday nights or Saturdays.
Twice during the regular season the Cougars had games scheduled for Shabbat, but both times the coaches had been able to reschedule. But according to Cougars’ supporters, that was not the case this time.
The Cougars’ coach, who asked not to be named, e-mailed his team the Thursday before the playoff games, alerting his players that the game had been scheduled for Saturday and that because he had been unable to get the date changed, the team would have to forfeit.
According to Danny Rocke, father of 15-year-old Cougars’ outfielder Justin Rocke, the coach of the Renegades had been unwilling to change the date of the game. The Cougars had beaten the Renegades twice during the regular season. The Cougars had one last hope to play the game: a rainstorm Friday night that would leave the field unplayable. The rain came, but it did not drench the field enough to call the game. And so on that Saturday, Rocke came to the field in Montvale and told the opposing coach that the Cougars would forfeit.
The Cougars’ coach told the Standard that when the playoff schedule came out, he called the opposing coach to reschedule the game for Saturday evening.
The Cougars’ players will likely find other leagues to play in next year and not return to the Cerbo League, their coach said.
"I had never been in a situation where we’d been forced to forfeit for religious reasons," Justin Rocke said Monday night. "Everyone’s been willing to change for us. We even told the league we can’t play Saturday or Friday night and they scheduled the game regardless."
Mark Malmut, coach of the Renegades, told the Standard that he has nothing to do with the league playoff schedule.
"They wanted to put some kind of guilt on me," he said. "The Cougars played in the same league my team played in. They couldn’t play because it was Shabbos. I told them to talk to the league."
"I take tremendous offense at the fact they’re saying I was being unfair to them because of lack of respect for the Jewish religion," said Malmut, who is also Jewish. "I am just a manager of a baseball team."
League commissioner Tony Cerbo said that the playoffs had been scheduled during the summer, and the Cougars waited until the last minute to lodge a scheduling complaint.
"It’s not a league decision," he said.
A rule on the Cerbo League Website reads: "There is no game changing unless approved by the opposing coach. If he does not approve, there is a forfeit enforced. If the team forfeits, they will be removed from the league."
"Apparently the coach from the Cougars waited to the last minute to try to juggle stuff," Cerbo said.
The Cougars’ coach laid some of the blame on Cerbo, however. The coach said that Cerbo told him that he would try to talk to the opposing coach about changing the date, but "nothing was done," the coach said.
Cerbo placed the onus on the two coaches.
"Whatever happened with the Cougars and Mark Malmut, there was no effort to make it up," Cerbo said. "It was due to a religious situation but by no means a penalty against the kids for religion."