Month remains to fill local rosters for Maccabi games

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"I'm very pleased with the results I saw today," coach Dennis Doyle told the girls as the tryouts ended.

Eight of the girls are on the team. Ten are needed, not including substitutes.

With only a month to complete the local rosters for the 14-year-old annual Maccabi Youth Games, the version of the Jewish Olympics for younger competitors, Doyle is still looking for more.

About 50 teenagers ages 13 to 16 spent a recent Sunday at the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center and Gunn High School, both in Palo Alto, trying out for everything from basketball to table tennis, from gymnastics to chess. Several more stepped forward following tryouts, putting the San Francisco Bay Area team at about 80.

There is room for 10 more athletes — soccer, basketball, track and tennis players –to travel to St. Louis in August to compete with youth teams from around the country.

The main problem for coaches has been the lack of registered players, especially young women. San Francisco won't have a girls' softball team this year because only one girl signed up.

With room on the girls' soccer team for up to 16 players, all 11 athletes who registered this year made the team. Only eight chose to stick with it.

But it is not a matter of having a team by default, said Sherri Smith, the program director at the San Francisco Bay Area JCC Maccabi Club, which organized the tryouts. Smith says all the players are good enough to compete. If they hadn't been, the club simply would have chosen not to send a girls' soccer team.

"The girls look really strong. But we need more," Smith said. "More good players."

Teams that don't fill up in the next month will be rounded out by individual competitors from smaller cities that are not able to send teams.

"We've done this before," Smith said. "It gives kids from other cities the opportunity to play. But obviously it's much better if we fill out our teams with kids from the area so they can practice together."

The San Francisco Bay Area JCC Maccabis are sending the girls' soccer and basketball teams, the boys' baseball team, a boys' soccer team, two table tennis players, four tennis players, four golfers, eight swimmers, a gymnast and three track-and-field athletes, Smith said.

In addition to a strong girls' soccer team, the girls' basketball team could also fare well this summer. That eight girls appeared at this third tryout delighted coach William Greenspan.

The Bay Area's basketball team has in past years done just fine with only eight players — and sometimes with fewer. The team placed fifth the last two years, won a silver medal in Baltimore in 1992 and placed first in St. Louis in 1993, even though by the end of the championship game, it had only four players left on the court.

"Betty, I really like your aggressiveness," Greenspan told a promising young player after the tryouts. "When you floor someone, I'll really be impressed."

Betty Chernack, a 5-foot-7-inch 13-year-old from Berkeley's Willard Junior High School, is young enough to play in the games for the next three years.

One of the most promising athletes in this year's games, however, won't have to worry about getting enough teammates. He plays alone. Sometimes he even plays without breaking a sweat.

Table-tennis star Kalman Zeiger beat all the other 12-year-olds at the meet last year.

This year, Zeiger "could potentially win the whole thing," said Rosan Gomperts, who coached last year's table tennis team. "He's a very relaxed player. He's smart and he's extremely quick, and he keeps his cool very well."

Zeiger, a seventh-grader at Davidson Middle School in San Rafael, had been playing table tennis ever since he was small, but never played it seriously until last year's Maccabi Games. Before that, he had no idea that table tennis was a major sport with its own special clubs and Olympic competitions.

"I just thought it was something you played in the house," Zeiger said.

Boris Veznogyi, by contrast, has only been playing tennis for two years. The 13-year-old seventh-grader from Giannini Junior High School in San Francisco has already placed well in two of the tournaments he's played over the last year.

And he has already developed a competitive philosophy that is worthy of much older players.

"If you go out and play tennis and you know you're going to lose, why play?" Veznogyi said.