Three young Jewish athletes from Tucson will compete in the elite Maccabiah Games in Israel. Held every four years, the games are the world’s third-largest international sporting event, with more than 9,000 athletes from over 80 countries.
Sam Beskind, Tamara Statman and Brett Miller will be part of Team USA at the 20th Maccabiah Games, July 4-18, in basketball, softball and gymnastics.
Sixteen-year-old Sam Beskind has played basketball on the Catalina Foothills High School varsity team since his freshman year. He participated in the JCC Maccabi Games for teens in 2015 and 2016, in Dallas and St. Louis, helping his teams to victory with a gold and a bronze medal.
Since qualifying for the 2017 Maccabiah Games, he’s worked on fundraising to finance the trip to Israel and is approaching his goal. Participation in the games includes a week of cultural experiences and touring in Israel. “I love playing basketball, but I’m super-excited to learn about Jewish heritage and seeing all the incredible places in Israel,” he says.
Beskind’s father will accompany him, along with his grandfather from Maine, whose lifelong goal has been to visit Israel with his family. “It’ll be three generations at once,” says Beskind.
He started playing basketball at age 4, at the Tucson Jewish Communiy Center. He’s also played baseball, football, soccer, tennis and hockey, but says, “I really had a love for basketball. It’s encouraged me to find the value of working together as a team, setting and staying focused on a goal, and listening to others’ advice.”
Most days, he and a buddy hit the gym before school, lifting weights, working out and honing their skills between games. Practicing as a team comes first, he says, “but instructors are busy people, and not always there. A lot of development and individual growth is done on my own.”
In any activity, he says, the key is “consistency, working hard, and loving what you do.”
Looking ahead to college, he hopes to win a basketball scholarship to a good school. “Playing professionally would be cool,” he says, but he’s setting his career sights on something in math or science. “Both of my parents are in the medical field. Eventually basketball stops, and I’d like to impact the world in a different way.”
University of Arizona sophomore Tamara (“T”) Statman, 19, is a member of the UA Wildcats softball team. She was selected to play in the softball Women’s Open division for Team USA, following Maccabiah Games tryouts in Chicago. Like the annual JCC Maccabi Games, the Maccabiah tournament offers a unique opportunity to vie with other Jewish athletes, says Statman.
“There’s a fellowship of Christian athletes, but we don’t have that. This is our version of bringing athletes together,” she says.
Statman also enjoys taekwondo and golf, but her love affair with softball started as a first-grader in Little League. “Softball teaches you a lot about life … responsibility, and dealing with adversity and difficult situations,” she says, adding, “You have to be able to balance school work, softball, social life and other activities.” Sports aren’t for everyone, she says, but pursuing any passion can be immensely rewarding. “Whether it’s sports, instruments, or activities in general; do something and commit yourself to it.”
With a major in political science and minors in sports management and communications, school is demanding, but she deftly interweaves academics with her Wildcats training regimen, lifting weights three times a week, with two days of sports conditioning and team practice most days.
Statman received partial funding from the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona to enable her to participate in the Maccabiah Games. She’s also raised additional funds through the Maccabi USA internet portal.
Though this will be her first trip to Israel, she’s discovered she has connections with two other Team USA members — a former student and softball player from her old high school, Horizon High School in Phoenix, and a friend who attends California Polytechnic.
But, she says, “I’m excited to meet and play [against] girls from different countries. We speak different languages, but we have something together, and that’s softball.”
Brett Miller, 20, a computer programming student at Pima Community College, started doing gymnastics when he was 2 years old.
“My twin sister and I had so much energy that my mom didn’t know what to do with us,” he says, “so she put us in the Baby and Me class at Gym Magic, in New Mexico, and just let us run around until we were worn out. Ever since then we loved it, and stuck with it.”
He started competing when he was 7. Over the years, he’s won numerous individual and team trophies, including the 2015 Arizona State Boys Gymnastics Association Gymnast of the Year award.
Miller, a member of Congregation Bet Shalom, will compete in the Elite division at the Maccabiah Games. “It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to combine my religion with my love and passion for gymnastics,” he says. “Just the thought of being able to represent the U.S. men’s gymnastics team and my Jewish community is unbelievable. Thanks to the Jewish Federation, who made a very generous donation, I get the chance to travel to Israel and become a stronger Jew and gymnast.”
He trains five days a week for three and a half hours at Tucson’s Gymnastics World Central, with coach Yoichi Tomita. “Yoichi is very well known in the gymnastics community,” says Miller, “and I hope to make him proud at the Maccabiah Games.”
Miller’s mom, uncle and two sisters will accompany him to Israel. “I am incredibly excited about the Maccabiah Games,” he says. “When I perform, I feel confident knowing I trained as hard as I could — and although I get a little nervous and may not win, I’ll know that I did my best.”
Kaye Patchett is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.