The Kaiserman JCC is gearing up to play host to more than 700 pre-teen Jewish boys and girls for the Junior Games.
The Kaiserman JCC is gearing up once again to host the Mid-Atlantic Junior Maccabi Games.
On May 3, more than 700 pre-teen Jewish boys and girls are expected to come together for an Olympic-style competition. The one-day event will bring together some 16 delegations from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Maryland to compete in a wide array of sports, including baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming and tennis.
“I love this day,” said Beth Segal, Kaiserman JCC’s executive director. “It unites the entire Jewish community with participants from the entire Philadelphia area. It is such a wonderful experience to look out over the crowd of proud parents and their excited children who are sometimes overwhelmed to be gathering with all Jewish athletes” from around the region.
The Junior Games, for kids ages 10-12, are for many a precursor to the JCC Maccabi Games for older teens, ages 13-16, who travel to different parts of the country to compete in a weeklong event.
Seth Kohler has seen the games from all sides. He competed as a swimmer in the Junior Maccabi Games, on the baseball team in the teen JCC Maccabi Games and now he is coaching Team Philadelphia’s baseball team, which will be competing in Milwaukee in early August.
“Growing up with the games, it really meant a lot to be a Maccabi athlete,” said Kohler, 28, who now works for a bank and lives in Havertown after growing up in the Overbrook Park section of Philadelphia. “It meant even more to me that I was able to represent Kaiserman since I spent a great deal of time at the center growing up.”
Even though it is only a one-day event, each host city puts their best foot forward to create lifelong memories that will encourage the athletes to participate in the “big games” for teenagers.
Rachel Goetz, who played soccer in both the Junior Games and the regular Maccabi Games throughout her youth, has fond memories of the games, which she did alongside her twin brother, Josh.
“Josh and I thought it was fun and exciting that we had a chance to march in like they do in the Olympics,” said Goetz, who will turn 17 in June and therefore is no longer eligible to participate.
This year’s Junior Maccabi events will include an opening ceremony; a parade of athletes who will march in with their respective delegations, followed by the athletes’, spectators’ and coaches’ oaths.
Comcast SportsNet TV personality Michael Barkann will serve as Master of Ceremonies, as he has in the past.
“I can’t begin to express how important the Junior Games are to the organization as a whole,” Kohler said. “Athletes who have played for the junior team years ago are the essential core players for our team now.”
And whereas the whole Philadelphia region brings just one Team Philadelphia to the Maccabi Games — this year they are participating in competitions in Milwaukee and in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — the junior games includes several teams from the Philadelphia region.
In addition to Team Kaiserman from the western suburbs, Montgomery County, Bucks County and Center City Philadelphia are also forming teams.
Jared Gordon, who watched his two older sons participate in the Junior Games and is currently an assistant baseball coach for his youngest son’s Junior Games team, agreed about the flow of the games.
“I think the Junior Games are a great introduction to the Maccabi movement and to the broader Jewish community; specifically for the kids who do not necessarily get a chance to spend time with other Jewish athletes outside the Maccabi Games,” he said.
Rachel Goetz’s father, Michael, echoed Gordon’s sentiments, “Each year my kids participated, they had immense pride in not only representing their city but also being involved with Jewish kids from all over the country.
“I believe it helped reinforce their Jewish identity, as it gave them a chance to see hundreds of kids just like them,” he added. “They realized that even though they live in an area where they are a distinct minority, there were a lot of kids all over the world who had similar situations.”
For tryout schedules and other information regarding the Junior Maccabi and JCC Maccabi Games, go to: phillyjcc.com/maccabi