Baltimore Athletes Make Memories and Take Pride in JCC Maccabi Games® Experience
The JCC Maccabi Games®, held over the last two weeks in St. Louis, MO, and Stamford, CT, have been offering life – and personality-shaping experiences to Jewish teenagers since 1982.
Teens from around the world participate in this five-day Olympic-style sporting event held each summer. Beyond the athletic competition, the Games promote community involvement, teamwork, and pride in being Jewish.
Each year Baltimore sends nearly 100 athletes to up to two host cities to compete in Soccer, Basketball, Volleyball, Bowling, Baseball, Table Tennis, Tennis, Swimming, Softball, Dance and Track & Field.
Two of Baltimore’s athletes, Hailey Grutman and Eric Diehl, wrote about their experiences as JCC Maccabi participants.
I participated in my first Maccabi Games with the Baltimore Delegation this summer in St. Louis. I played on the Baltimore/Greater Washington 16U girls’ basketball team. My teammates and Coach, Steve Winter, welcomed me and my two friends from Baltimore, to their team of 6. I grew as a basketball player because I quickly picked up brand new plays and adjusted to the already formed chemistry of their team. Because I spent each day with my team, I became close friends with them. I was also interested in meeting people from other states and countries because I had never been to an event with people from so many different places. Opening ceremonies celebrated the Jewish heritage of every teen and made me feel united with people from all over the world.
When I found out my team had Israel on our game schedule I was so excited because they were the only international team we played. During our game, I listened as the Israeli girls communicated and their coach instructed in Hebrew. It was awesome that they were speaking the universal language of Jews during our basketball game! Many girls, including myself, go to Jewish schools, so we understood the Hebrew and sang Hebrew songs with them on the bus prior to our game. Win or lose, the connection between us as athletes was indescribable.
With a 5-0 record we lost to Israel in the semi-finals. Rather than losing hope, our intensity as a team grew, preparing us to defeat Atlanta in the bronze medal game. By accepting our mistakes from the previous game against Israel, we altered our playing, leading us to victory. Winning this game enhanced my Maccabi experience because I returned to Baltimore with a medal around my neck.
Part of the Maccabi experience is staying with a host family in the local community. I was fortunate to have stayed with really kind people and room with two girls from my school. On host family night, they threw me and my roommates a party and allowed us to invite all of our new friends! I really loved that night because it was a smaller group of kids allowing us to connect more. Leaving Maccabi made me more emotional than leaving summer camp because the great friends I made live hundreds of miles away. However, the sadness continued to the airport because I didn’t want to accept that one of the best experiences of my life was ending. I can’t wait to travel somewhere else next summer and create many more friendships and memories at the Maccabi Games 2017!
My name is Eric Diehl and I am 14 years old and live in Columbia, MD. I love playing baseball. My grandparents’ friends suggested that I try out for Maccabi baseball, so I tried out and made the Baltimore team.
My first Maccabi games were held in St. Louis. Our entire delegation flew together and then took a bus to the JCC where we met our host families. I stayed at my host family’s house with two of my teammates for the entire week.
The first night we attended the Opening Ceremony. There were 1200 Jewish athletes from almost all of the United States, Panama, Canada and Israel. When they recognized the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered at the Munich Olympics I felt sad but proud. The feeling hit my heart like a bullet. They were taken hostage and murdered just because they were Jewish. Now in spite of that tragedy, Jews all across the world participate in Olympic sports but never forget.
The next day was the beginning of the tournament. However, our baseball games were delayed due to the bad weather. We finally played the St. Louis team and won 3-1. That night, all 1200 of us went to Dave and Busters where we hung out with our friends and played games. I made lots of new friends from all over the US and Israel.
Our games were rained out for the next two days so I had the opportunity to watch some friends play volleyball. I also spent time at the hub where they had video games and other things to do.
One day, we went to the “J” to do volunteer work for JCC Cares. We sealed and packed food for the homeless. I was proud to participate because I felt we were doing something, even though it was small, to make the world a better place.
One night we went to the City Museum in St. Louis. It felt like a large jungle gym. There you can go on a bus that is hanging off the roof, climb on dragons and castles or go into a ball pit. It was the best night-time activity all week.
The last day of Maccabi I had to play four baseball games in a row because we had been rained out and we were one of the medal finalists. Unfortunately, we did not win but we placed fourth. The games were very intense and exciting.
The last night, there was a closing ceremony where we thanked all of the volunteers for making Maccabi great for everyone. We thanked the host families, the security and transportation staff and everyone who helped. There was a DJ and we danced and partied all night.
My experiences playing in the Maccabi games were great. I met lots of new friends, did lots of fun activities and enjoyed playing baseball with my team. I’m looking forward to going back to Maccabi in 2017. I would recommend Maccabi to anyone who wants to have a fun, Jewish experience during the summer. It is a great place to go and will be the best week that they ever had. I have already talked to some of my friends and hope that they will attend with me in Birmingham, Alabama next year.