If you didn’t know any better, you might have thought you walked into a giant tailgate before an Eagles game.
Fans of all ages — many of whom sported Eagles gear — chatted and noshed on football-friendly fare like burgers and hot dogs, and washed it down with sodas or beer.
Instead, it was the gymnasium of the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, N.J., as it hosted its annual Sports Award Dinner on Sept. 17.
The green garb was appropriate, however, as Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and center Jason Kelce served as the sold-out evening’s keynote speakers.
While attendees were eager to hear from the star speakers, the evening served to honor local leaders and athletes who have made strides on and off the field.
Keith Morgan took home the People’s Choice Award, honoring his involvement and commitment to the JCC and various sporting events for the past 20 years.
“I always loved being a part of it,” he said, whether it’s coaching for one of the JCC’s basketball programs or as a part of the Maccabi Games.
Donna Rose was given the Lifetime Achievement Award for her dedication to volunteering with the JCC and Maccabi Games.
She’s served as operations vice chair, administration co-chair of the JCC Maccabi Games in 2014, a member of the JCC board of directors, South Jersey Maccabi Games co-chair, and much more.
“When I say we wouldn’t be here without you, I really mean it,” event co-chair Jason Ravitz said as he introduced her.
For Rose, the Maccabi Games held a certain importance as it allowed Jewish athletes from all over the country — and the world — to meet. The experience drove her to remain involved even after her children competed for six years and were off the field.
“It was so important to me that other Jewish teens got to experience what mine did,” she said.
Ali and Matt Karpousis spoke to the special bond the Maccabi Games create for the teen athletes who participate.
The four-time JCC Maccabi athletes and siblings were awarded the David Back Memorial Maccabi Awards for their athletic achievements and dedication to volunteerism.
The seniors at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, N.J., spoke about the unique experience of staying with host families when they travel for the games and keeping in touch with the friends they’ve made through the games from all around the world.
“It was a really big honor being able to speak about such an amazing part of our lives,” Ali Karpousis said after the event. “Maccabi has really helped to shape us into who we are.”
“It really has changed our lives in a really positive way,” Matt Karpousis added. “We have benefited from Maccabi not only from an athletic standpoint but more as a person, we’ve become better people and that’s the whole idea of Maccabi is just becoming better Jewish young adults.”
Sportscaster Marc Zumoff served as the evening’s master of ceremonies and got the crowd’s attention as he got to the “meat” of the program.
Event co-chair Jeff Brown brought out Kelce and Jenkins — but not before making a full disclosure that the annual event may be cursed.
Each time they had a player serve as the main speaker, he lamented, the player got traded or dropped the following year. Donovan McNabb, Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino (“Who would’ve thought they’d get traded?”) and “Shady” McCoy were all past speakers.
So they switched to coaches as speakers, which didn’t work out too well, either.
For instance, Chip Kelly served as a previous speaker (the crowd responded with loud booing).
They’d turned to retired players after that — until now.
Jenkins and Kelce took questions about how things have changed for the team since winning the coveted Lombardi Trophy, how they got their start in football, advice for young athletes (“Enjoy the game,” Jenkins said) and, of course, Carson Wentz’s return, which was announced earlier that morning.
“Carson is a special player,” said Kelce — who traded his Mummers outfit for a green polo — and acknowledged Nick Foles, which was met with loud applause. “You’re definitely going to get everything you’ve got from [Wentz] every time he steps out on the field.”
Jenkins talked about social activism, leadership and his foundation.
“It’s important for everybody to use their individual platforms, individual influence to make society better as a whole,” he said.
As far as expectations for this season, while Kelce noted their expectation right now is to win their next game and improve each week, Jenkins advised fans to “expect nothing and enjoy everything.”
While acknowledging they would love to win another Super Bowl, he said, “At this moment in time, the only thing to do is just continue to enjoy the game, enjoy what we’re doing as a team. … If you look too far ahead, you miss all the moments in between.”