Thirteen teen basketball players from Tucson — 10 boys and three girls —participated in the JCC Maccabi Games in Austin, Texas, July 28-Aug. 2. The annual games for Jewish teens ages 13 to 16 are like a mini-Olympics, but with the emphasis on camaraderie and enhancing Jewish identity more than competition.
“It was fabulous; the kids had just an amazing time,” says Jason Apodaca, assistant director of sports and wellness at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, who served as the delegation head.
Last year, Tucson was unable to send a team because the dates conflicted with the starting dates for Tucson schools.
In Austin, the three Tucson girls joined Team Austin, which won the bronze medal in the 16-and-under girls basketball division. The Team Tucson boys lost in the bronze medal game of their 16-and-under division. “They did fabulous. Most of our boys were younger than 16,” says Apodaca.
“It was a really great experience,” says Hayley Flanigan, 16, who participated for the first time this year.
One important aspect of the games is the annual social action day, “JCC Cares.”
“We went to a talk about anti-bullying,” says Flanigan, “and we learned how we can prevent bullying in our schools. It was cool, because we were all split up, all the Tucson people and everyone else, so we got to meet new people. We had group discussions and learned a little bit about other people participating in the games.” Each delegation, she notes, donated books on bullying for schools in the Austin area.
Matt Rein, 16, who also participated for the first time this year, was impressed by the experience organized for the more than 1,000 teen athletes.
“It was really grand,” he says.
While the Tucson delegation was small compared to many of the others, “it was still fun,” says Rein. “They had events every night, which were planned pretty well,” including a dance and a visit to a mini-golf amusement park. “Overall it was a great experience.”
Sadly, Rein says, Tucson will probably have to sit out the games next year, as the earliest start date for any of the three host sites is Aug. 10. Many Tucson-area schools start earlier.
Rounding out Team Tucson this year for the girls were Becky Monroy and Heather Rich, both 16. The boys included Sam Alberts, 14; Zachary Green, 15; Spencer Lewis, 13; Noah Meyer, 13, Ben Miller, 14; Evan Rich, 14, Bernie Silverman, 16; and Max Silverman, 13. Scott Epstein was the boys’ coach.