The Toronto JCCs dispatched their largest team in recent history to the JCC Maccabi Games & Artsfest in Detroit – 107 athletes in all, mostly in team sports – but it was the four swimmers competing largely in individual events who came home with the most medals.
The Toronto four won a total of 32 medals, a substantial haul of golds among them.
Although the swimmers registered success in a variety of races, few of the Maccabi athletes came home empty-handed.
Two girls under-16 soccer teams, dubbed Toronto Red and Toronto White, finished first and third respectively, winning the gold and bronze medals in their event.
The boys under-16 soccer squad lost 5-2 to Detroit in the bronze medal game.
The boys under-16 inline hockey team also lost to Detroit, though not until the gold-medal game. They came home with a silver.
In basketball, the girls under-16 team finished the tournament undefeated, earning a gold medal.
The boys under-16 hoops team won a silver medal, losing in the final to Virginia Beach by two points.
The boys under-14 team went 3-1 in the round robin portion of the tournament, but lost to Detroit in the quarter-finals, leaving them out of the medals.
In baseball, the boys under-14 team advanced to the gold-medal game undefeated, but then dropped an 11-5 decision to Mid-Westchester, leaving them with a silver.
In tennis, Kyle Singer won a silver, while Jordan Mamelak lost in the bronze-medal match, finishing fourth.
It was in the pool that team Toronto really excelled.
Joseph Samuel, swimming with kids aged 13 and 14, won 13 medals in all, six of them golds, said delegation head Alex Voihanski.
Erin Sass, in the under-16 age bracket, won gold, silver and bronze medals, while Chad Walt captured four golds and Lea Goldman came home with multiple medals as well, he said.
Toronto’s delegation to the Games was “huge” compared to previous years, said Voihanski, who also runs JCC Chai Sports. With 107 athletes, it was second only to host Detroit. Some 1,500 Jewish teens took part in the JCC Maccabi Games & Artsfest, which organizers labeled “the largest Jewish youth event in the world.”
Running from Aug. 17 to 22, the Olympic-style sports competition attracted athletes from JCCs across the United States, and included teams from Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary, as well as Israel, Mexico and Venezuela.
Parallel events in Cherry Hill, N.J. and Boca Raton, Fla. earlier in the month involved other North American JCCs.
Hundreds of parents accompanied the athletes to Detroit, said Voihanski. Toronto’s participation in the annual summer tournament has grown substantially since JCC Chai Sports was tasked with organizing the local team five years ago, he said.
In 2010, the first year of JCC Chai Sport’s involvement, only 10 kids were on the team. Year by year the number grew. In 2013, 55 young athletes took part and participation nearly doubled in 2014.
Next year organizers expect to bring 125 athletes to the games in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he added.
The Games are attracting some top athletes and coaches, Voihanski continued. The girls’ gold-medal winning basketball team was led by 15-year-old Samantha Brown, a shooting guard who drained more than 30 points in the championship game.
“She’s a game-changer,” he said.
Kyra Pollak also had a strong tournament. “It was a real good team effort, but they really stood out,” he added.
The boys silver medal-wining under-16 basketball team relied on six-foot-seven centre Yakob Bendayan, 15, “a smooth player who I expect to be a force in the future.”
“He’s pretty raw. With more coaching and if he played a little more, look out. He’s that good,” said Voihanski.
The girls under-16 gold-medal-winning soccer team, coached by Menashe Levi, was led by Michelle Zilberman and Sarit Winstok, “very special players” who scored some three-quarters of the team’s goals, Voihanski said.
The biggest name on the boys’ under-14 baseball team, which earned a silver medal, was probably one of its coaches, ESPN sportscaster Dan Shulman.
The team went through the round robin portion of the tournament undefeated, but got a scare in the semifinal against Chicago.
After jumping into a 9-0 lead, Toronto saw Chicago claw their way back, run by run. With Toronto leading 10-9 in the last inning, and Chicago threatening to take the lead, a Chicago hitter smacked a line drive that looked to be heading through the gap between third base and shortstop. But Reuben Gasee “made a game-saving catch from third base…for the last out of the game,” recounted Voihanski.
Unfortunately, team Toronto’s run ended in the final against Mid-Westchester, when they faced a 14-year-old pitcher who had “just a cannon of an arm.” The Toronto hitters had trouble with his pitches, which were clocked in the mid-80s, Voihanski said.
Toronto lost 11-5.