JCC Chai Sports and Maccabi Canada have entered a partnership that will expose young athletes to top-level competition competing under the Maccabi banner.
The partnership will begin in the spring with a soccer program that will expand JCC Chai Sports’ house league into an academy that will offer a suite of activities, including house league, rep teams and enhanced training for those in between, said Alex Voihanski, managing director of JCC Chai Sports.
The rep team will be open to players aged six to 12 who will be selected after a tryout process. Successful candidates will receive elite training under the supervision of a new technical director, Deesh Bhattal, with input from Maccabi Canada alumni. Similar to a hockey select program, the young soccer players will be exposed to top-level competition in their age group.
Plans are to field three teams in the under-10, under-nine and under-eight age categories. The core of the under-10 team has been playing high-level soccer for a while and has hardly lost a game in the Soccer Academy Alliance of Canada in more than a year, Voihanski said. Coached by Jason Mausberg, the team will hold tryouts in mid- to late February and will play its first games in May.
The strategic goal embraced by JCC Chai Sports is to offer kids in the community the opportunity to compete in sports from the recreational house league level to an elite level, “and give them what they want,” Voihanski said.
“We have a lot of kids at the house league level and we have a lot of kids ready to make the next step,” he said.
Kids who compete for JCC Chai Sports teams may have a leg up on others vying for places on Maccabi Canada teams – but only insofar as they receive top-level training and competition, said Maccabi Canada president Tom Bacher.
Teams operated by JCC Chai Sports will carry the “Team Maccabi” banner. “They want to be affiliated with us, because Maccabi Canada is considered the elite Jewish sports organization in Canada,” he said.
Bacher said Maccabi Canada “wants to get more involved in the community.” The organization will ask its alumni to run clinics and help develop the young athletes to their full potential.
“We’re there to make sure these kids become the best they can be,” he said.
Maccabi Canada selects the athletes who compete in the Maccabiah Games in Israel every four years, as well as in regional games, such as the Pan American Maccabi Games. JCC Chai Sports selects the team that represents Toronto at the summer JCC Maccabi (youth) Games.
“If you want to be part of these teams, you have to come to these organizations,” Voihanski said. “We are the sole providers for the delegations at [these events].”
JCC Chai Sports has in a few short years become a popular destination for parents who want their children exposed to sports while competing with Jewish teammates. More than 400 youngsters took part in the soccer program last season and JCC Chai Sports expects to add another 250 in its house league and academy. JCC Chai Sports started with 35.
The organization currently offers a learn-to-play hockey program for 250 youngsters at the Pavilion, double the figure from just a year ago. The program is so popular that there’s a waiting list of more than 50 kids.
Other sports are also popular: 200 kids play basketball; 50 compete in floor hockey; 50 play flag football, and another 100 play T-ball or baseball.
Voihanski, who also serves as general manager of hockey operations for International Scouting Services (ISS), said JCC Chai Sports is planning to develop hockey players in the same way select systems do and compete in leagues in North York and Vaughan. Jewish kids will play as the Stars of David – the same name as the gold medal team at the Canadian Multicultural Hockey Championship – until fully transitioned to the Team Maccabi brand. They will compete in tournaments, travel to events, and play against private schools.
Ultimately, Voihanski hopes, the players will be able to show their skills at a JCC Maccabi Winter Games or perhaps a North American Jewish hockey tournament, though there is no specific date for either at this time.