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Houston Games Are Hot, Hot, Hot!
"That happens in movies -- that's movie stuff. I don't know where that came from," said Philly goalie Emily Belkoff, 15, as she told the story of what happened to the team in Houston. "Out from nowhere, she scored, and I must have jumped 5 feet in the air. It was amazing."
With the score 2-2, Philly got in another one in the early moments of a 20-minute overtime. Since it was not sudden death, it was up to Belkoff to stop any shot that came her way in order to preserve the win.
"There was one that I dove for in the air to save," she recalled. "Thank God, I caught it! It was a great feeling."
With the championship game occurring just two hours later, the girls could not hold on to their winning ways; nonetheless, they earned a silver medal.
"They showed so much heart and character," said Ron Marks, who said that he perspired just watching his daughter run back and forth on the field. "They had to play in the gold-medal game a couple hours later, and they were just burnt."
The games featured 46 athletes from Philadelphia competing in golf, soccer, baseball, softball and swimming.
And it wasn't just athletes who made the trek down to Texas. A total of 79 spectators, mainly family and friends, joined the players. Baseball, particularly, had a dedicated fan base, with representatives for 10 of the 12 players -- and they were not afraid to sit through three-hour games despite the brutal heat.
"We met some new people who we will, hopefully, be friends with for quite some time," said Marks, who also watched his 14-year-old son Philip play baseball.
The group felt such a connection that they have apparently remained close since the games.
"We've already had a picnic reunion with that group, and everybody showed up," offered Marks.
On the golf course, players and coaches couldn't stop talking about 14-year-old Mike Amole. Did he really shoot a 68 in 18 holes?
"People came up to me that I didn't even know asking me about it," said Amole, who lives in Northeast Philadelphia.
His two-day total of 140 strokes on 36 holes easily won him the gold medal in his age bracket. Not only did he topple his division, his score was best among the 15- and 16-year-olds in competition as well.
Still, Amole remains modest.
"I couldn't make a putt," said the young golfer, who won a total of five medals.
For Philly softball catcher Samantha Rose, these were her final Maccabi Games after playing for four years in places like Phoenix; San Antonio; and Washington, D.C.
"When I got home, I started to cry a little because the opportunity is over for me," she said. "It's different from other sports tournaments because everyone's Jewish."
One part of the trip that proved especially meaningful to Rose was the Day of Caring and Sharing, which this year entailed reading with younger underprivileged children. Rose was paired up with a 10-year-old girl, and the two read to each other.
"It was a lot of fun sharing the experience of reading with a child who might not get the chance to have their own books," she explained.
The heat, however, proved to be as much a major subject of the games as were the matches and athletes.
With temperatures routinely hitting triple digits, with the accompanying humidity, players were forced to take extra caution.
Rose began feeling dizzy during the final innings of one of her games; she was quickly taken inside where it was air-conditioned.
"They dumped buckets and buckets of ice on me," she recalled.
In an effort to get fluids and electrolytes into her, adults on the scene told her to drink pickle juice, which is known to be hydrating.
"I'll never look at a pickle the same way again," she joked.
The heat also got to swimmer Kendall Somer, 14, while she was attending one of the nighttime activities. One minute she was dancing with friends, another she felt faint.
"I didn't drink enough water, and I almost fainted and I started shaking," she explained. "I just drank a lot of water and I had to sit down for the last hour-and-a-half."
Even with the heat exhaustion, Somer continued to win medals during the rest of her time in the competition.
"I was tired for the rest of the week," she said. "I don't think I did as well as I could have, but I hung in there."
Gaining Experience in Baltimore
Also last month, 27 athletes traveled to Baltimore to compete in soccer and basketball in a set of JCC Maccabi Games held strictly for 13- and 14-year-olds.
While none of the Philadelphia teams earned medals, they did gain experience competing against others from around the country. That could help them if they continue to play in Maccabi as they get older.
David Schupper, a 13-year-old soccer player, said that he feels the competition was tough and would help him hone his skills for use in other leagues, as well as future Maccabi tournaments.
"It got me to be more competitive," he said. "I hope to play when I'm 15 and 16, but also in the other games past that, like in Israel and Australia."
Marti Berk, a delegation head with the JCCs of Greater Philadelphia, said that the Baltimore games gave younger athletes, who might not have made it onto a 16-and-under team, a chance to complete.
"Being able to play on a 13- and 14-year-old team allows them to mature as an athlete," she said.
For Schupper, one of his favorite parts of the week was hanging out with Jewish athletes from places like Chicago and Hartford, Conn.
For his coach, Marc Swarbrick, to hear that means Schupper gets the point.
"They realize it's much bigger than just sports. You see Jewish teams from all over country; you watch these kids interact, and there's no other event where they could meet," he said. "They realize they're all the same. They all have something in common, and they use sports and Judaism to start conversations."
U16 Girls Soccer: Silver Medal
Emily BelkoffCo-Ed 13-16 Swimming: A total of 32 medals with eight athletes
Rachel GoodmanU16 Golf: A total of 10 medals for three athletes
Mike AmoleU14 Boys Baseball: Silver Medal
Josh BarrettNames and rankings provided by the JCCs of Greater Philadelphia