Homecourt is a well-told story within a story about Red Klotz and the all-Jewish South Philadelphia Hebrew Association (SPHAS) basketball team. The story opens with Grandpa Red and his grandson watching a basketball game. The rowdy audience prompts Grandpa Red to launch into one of his stories about life when he was a young teen, and the many “life-lessons” basketball can teach.
Red loved basketball when he was young. He played with his friends at the local basketball court. Those games could get rough, depending on whom they played. But those games were nothing compared with those Red’s favorite team, the SPHAS, played. Every Saturday night, right after Shabbat ended, Red would sneak out of his house to watch them play across town. Eventually, he and his friends were allowed to play in SPHAS youth team pre-game matches. Red lived for those Saturday night games. He enjoyed playing basketball as much as he enjoyed watching his favorite team beat every challenging team.
Author Larry Needle, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Sports Congress, uses many of Red’s experiences to highlight “life lessons”, experiences learned through playing basketball. As Red gets to know some of the SPHAS players, he observes the poor sportsmanship and often anti-Semitic responses of the crowded audiences. Cy Kasselman, one of Red’s favorite players, once shared, “We can do our best talking with our basketball. There’s no better way to make those guys quiet than to beat them fair and square and leave them speechless.” If the players stayed cool and played well the crowd would realize that “people are really all the same no matter their religion or color or anything else.” Lessons, such as these, are sprinkled throughout the story.
Homecourt ends with an epilogue briefly listing the highlights of Red Klotz’s career and of the SPHAS teams. There is a fascinating recap of the entire book told as an afterword by Red Klotz. By the end of Homecourt, you really have a clear picture of Red, the SPHAS, and the somewhat turbulent era that produced this amazing team. This book will be of great interest to Jewish children who love basketball as much as Red Klotz and his grandson love it. Recommended for ages 9 – 12.
Marcia Berneger is a retired teacher who lives with her husband and three crazy dogs. She taught both first and second grade, as well as special education. She currently teaches Torah school, in addition to her volunteer work in classrooms, libraries, and with various fundraisers. She lives in San Diego.