Local JCCs win big at San Diego Maccabi Games

For the Contra Costa JCC, the quest to win gold at the JCC Maccabi Games in San Diego started long before its 16-and-under boys basketball team took the court for the championship game against San Diego last week.

Before a crowd of nearly 300 people, the Contra Costa JCC defeated host San Diego, 46-45, after Ryan Trutner sank the winning shot, a free throw, with one second left on the clock.

Trutner’s basket was part of a series of highlights leading up to winning the gold medal, an accomplishment that was many years in the making, according to the Contra Costa JCC’s Executive Director Jamie Hyams.

“For the past 30 years, there’s never been a stand-alone delegation from the East Bay,” she said. “It’s a milestone for the development of our JCC. To be able to send a delegation of our own means we’ve arrived.”

For past Maccabi Games, the Contra Costa JCC has been given up to five spots for individual sports such as golf and tennis, Hyams said. Lacking participants to fill those spots, Hyams appealed to the JCC Association in hopes of securing eight spots for a basketball team. After three years of flooding the JCCA with letters, her request was finally granted.

Four-time Maccabi Games coach Barry Kleiman said that after many attempts to form a Contra Costa delegation on his own, it was an honor to lead the boys team to an undefeated appearance.

“Yes, we won a gold medal and that was incredibly exciting,” he said. “You go to do your best, but they also helped the JCC gain some traction in the community.”

Yet this year’s Maccabi Games did more than bring exposure to the JCC. It brought together basketball players from different schools and neighborhoods who “came to the game as strangers and left the game as friends,” according to Judith Markowitz, delegation head for the Contra Costa JCC.

“They are an amazing group of young men,” she said. “I gave them the best compliment at the end of the games: I would let any of you date my daughter.”

For the more than 1,000 participants at the Maccabi Games, the experience transcended the basketball court, the baseball diamond or the golf course. Some members of the Contra Costa JCC delegation wrapped tefillin for the first time, while others used basketball as a vehicle to rediscover their Jewish identity.

“I think a lot of our kids came into this without a lot of connections to Judaism,” Kleiman said. “I don’t know if they’ll all of a sudden become rabbis, but it was certainly something special.”

In addition to the triumphs of the Contra Costa team, many members of the JCC of San Francisco delegation came away from the Maccabi Games with gold around their necks.

Making its first appearance at the Maccabi Games, the flag football team pulled out a 24-22 win over North Miami Beach in the championship game to take the gold medal. The 16-and-under girls basketball squad also earned gold after defeating Boca Raton, 41-30.

In individual competition, Becca Roth swam her way to seven gold medals, while teammate Brittany Salazar took home the silver medal in the 200-yard mixed team medley relay. Buddy Wartell won gold in 14U boys golf and Daniel Starr earned silver in 16U boys golf. Tennis player Aaron Goldwyn picked up a silver medal in doubles.

The JCCSF’s focus now shifts to the Maccabi Games in Detroit (the event takes place in several cities each year), which begin Aug. 17. The delegation will send teams in dance, boys basketball, soccer and baseball.

The Albert L. Schultz JCC also scored at the Games: the 16U girls volleyball and the 16U girls and 14U boys soccer teams came back with bronze medals, and Samuel Gurevich won a silver medal playing doubles.

Two days after the athletes returned from San Diego, messages of “I miss you” and “congratulations” from new friends they met during the Maccabi Games filled their Facebook pages.

“They were able to come together as a team and compete against other Jews from all over the country,” said Jon Ratshin, the delegation head from the Albert L. Schultz JCC. “They also got to meet other Jews whom they would never see.”