In Palo Alto, Bay teens vie for a spot on squad

"We would like to take all the kids as it is such an amazing opportunity for them," said Sherri Smith, president of the San Francisco delegation. The team probably will be limited, however, to 140 athletes chosen from tryouts in Palo Alto and San Rafael, where about 40 youngsters competed earlier this month in three sports.

Those selected will participate this summer in 14 sports against athletes nationwide at games held in either Baltimore or Omaha, Neb. The Maccabi event is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

One benefit of this year's record turnout will be that the local delegation can field its own softball team for the first time. In past years, local softball players competed on teams that were composed of athletes from several other areas.

"I am not exactly sure why the turnout has doubled from last year," commented coach Paul Gendler, "but I could not be happier. Now that we have the team, we just have to sit back and see how much fun we can have."

Rifka Cohen, a 13-year-old girl from El Cerrito, admitted to some jitters as she and her friend, 12-year-old Ruby Shapiro from Richmond, took batting practice and tips from Gendler.

"It is a little nervous trying out," said Cohen, "but I think it will be such a great experience to travel with the team and play." Cohen came out for the team because Shapiro, whose brother had participated in years past, told her about it.

Both athletes and coaches, many of whom are former participants themselves, raved about the Maccabi experience.

"Maccabi is the best," beamed Jake Guernsey, a 14-year-old from San Francisco who played baseball last year and is trying to make his way onto one of two basketball teams. "Where else do you get to go away for a week, play hard for five days and meet so many great people?"

Guernsey is one of 18 to 20 boys vying for 10 spots on the team for 13- to 14-year-olds. The two-hour tryouts on March 10 gave assistant coach Bill Black a chance to assess players' skills and possible positions by running drills and watching a short scrimmage. Black will select his final squad later this month.

"It's great to have a strong turnout," said Black. "With many of the kids still playing for school teams, it can be difficult for them to make all of the practices and even the tryouts. This way we get to look at a lot of great players and have a few months to get ready."

Black's team, which won the gold medal in Miami last year over 14 other teams, will practice weekly in the months leading up to the games.

"It can be tough the first couple of days," said Guernsey, "because you have to get to know how new teammates play, what they like to do with the ball each time up the court."

In one of the Maccabi Games' most exciting team sports, the San Francisco delegation will send 12 young men to the in-line hockey competition, where they won the bronze medal from among six clubs last year. Goalie Alex Traniel, 14, from El Cerrito is hoping to make the team for the second year in a row.

"I was the youngest one there last year, and even though I was a little nervous, it was so much fun. The opening ceremonies make you feel like you are at the Olympics, with fireworks and lighting the torch. It is amazing."

As well as competing over the five-day event, the athletes also will stay in the homes of local families.

"I wasn't too sure about the home stay,"said Traniel, "but it was cool. The family had a son who played hockey also so we got to know each other and they took me to all my games each day."

Thirteen-year-old newcomer Mike Petrellese from Benicia was looking for in-line teams to join when his sister returned from last year's Maccabi as a member of the soccer team.

"She would not stop talking about how much fun it was. Not just to play soccer, but to be in Miami and meet the people on your team and at the home stay.

"I just hope I make it," said Petrellese.