The 30th annual JCC Maccabi Games, a competition for young Jewish athletes, opened Sunday night at Villanova's Pavilion with a parade of more than 1,200 participants and 250 coaches from seven countries, a prelude to a week of competition in a variety of sports on the Main Line and in Philadelphia.
In Ardmore, swimming events will kickoff Monday at , and baseball will begin Tuesday at . (Check out the schedule below.)
Local master of ceremonies Michael Barkann introduced 41 different teams from throughout the United States, with separate teams from Canada, England, Mexico, Panama, Venezuela and Israel. Philadelphia had the largest contingent, which entered the Pavilion last and was led by a familiar face: Harriton basketball star Matt Sherman.
“I’m a veteran of this, you can say, because this is my third Maccabi Games,” said Sherman, who’s about to enter his junior year. “Two years ago, I played in Israel in the summer of 2009, and I remember it being the second-largest event behind the Beijing Olympics. It was a real honor leading the team, being the banner holder."
“We won gold in Israel, but never in these games, the JCC. That was an international competition—this is more national. The best part of this is you don’t know who you’ll run into on the court. The competition is very good. The teams from Los Angeles and New York will be very good. And Barkann did a great job emceeing this.”
The Comcast SportsNet host was his usual animated self, introducing all 41 teams and special speakers Vince Papale, the true-life inspiration behind the movie Invincible, and Alon Howard, a survivor of the 1972 Israeli Munich Olympic team.
“We’ve been involved with the Maccabi games for the last five or six years, before my daughter became involved,” Barkann said. “It really is a very special event, and it’s about giving back and being part of the community. It’s so true when you’re Jewish, how many do you know? Young people look for role models. They need role models that they can identify with. What’s the saying, power in numbers? It was good to see that young Jewish people know that there are Jews in Venezuela, in Panama and Texas."
Papale gave a rousing presentation. The local football hero spoke to the young athletes about living their dreams.
“This was a nice thing they did by inviting me,” Papale said. “I had no idea how big this was, and I felt the energy and the love of competition. Sports competition brings out the best and the worst in you, and it’s important for young people to compete, because it prepares them for life. If you can’t compete, you’re never going to make it. I saw myself in these kids tonight. I hope they could be inspired by my story, and hopefully they can find something within themselves to live their dreams.”
Howard topped the ceremony off with a vivid, poignant remembrance of the 11 Israeli athletes that were killed by terrorists at the 1972 Olympics. Howard’s presentation put an exclamation point on the ceremony.
“It’s important that these children know their past and how important these games are, that we remember,” said Howard, who fortunately bunked with a friend the fateful night Palestinians raided the Israeli dorm rooms and killed 11 members of the 1972 Israeli Olympic team. “It was important they see their faces, and it’s why we always have to remember.”Date Times Sport Location Monday 8:30 am—All day Swimming Friends Central Tuesday 8:30 am to 2:30 pm Baseball South Ardmore Park Tuesday 8:30 am—All day Swimming Friends Central Wednesday 8:30 am to 2:30 pm Baseball South Ardmore Park Wednesday 8:30 am—All day Swimming Friends Central Thursday 8:30 am to 2 pm Baseball South Ardmore Park
Editor's note: An early version included a type-o on the photo caption of Alon Howard and has since been corrected.