Looking back now, two months removed from the JCC Maccabi Games in San Diego in which Team Atlanta (Boys 16U Flag Football) ultimately took home a gold medal, Daron Beldick can laugh about the first couple days of competition.
His flag football team was coming off an underwhelming 1-3 won-loss record in pool play and as the playoff tournament loomed, Team Atlanta, one stacked with high-level basketball and baseball players, was starting to get dismissed by other Maccabi teams. At the time, this was nothing to cackle about.
“Day after we finished our second day of games, when we were 1-3, everyone in our delegation was making fun of us,” said Beldick, who also recalls that his former basketball coach, Gavi Abraham, was getting on him for the slow start. “I just got really mad. A lot of us were down. I had to pick everyone up and make sure our attitude was up so we could focus on our goal of winning.”
And winning was what they did for the balance of the week. After blasting San Diego, 47-0, to secure a tourney spot as the fifth seed, Team Atlanta, which arrived in San Diego having had limited time for practices and scrimmages, reeled off three gutsy wins in the playoff tournament to capture the gold. Fueled by a “Gold or Bust” mentality, Beldick and his teammates, some of whom were his overnight camp bunkmates, won all three playoff contests by a total of six points, which included a 34-33 win over Jacksonville in the championship.
Prevailing in three consecutive hard-fought playoff battles was, without question, a byproduct of savvy leadership exhibited by head coach Ronald McCrae, a longtime multi-sport JCC coach and league organizer who was gunning for his first Maccabi title. The highly revered McCrae also deserves credit for making the prudent adjustment to slim down—and simplify—the playbook, following the 1-3 start.
“It meant so much to Ronald,” said Daron’s dad, Robert Beldick, who served as an assistant coach. “This was a huge deal to him. This gold medal you would think was an Olympic gold medal to him. This was the capstone to his coaching career.”
After the second game of pool play, a 39-20 loss to Jacksonville, it didn’t look too promising for McCrae in his quest to earn a gold medal in his sixth, and possibly final, Maccabi Games.
“Second game, we were not focused,” admitted McCrae, a product of Georgia Southern University whose day job is working for Sapir Realty as a field agent. “That was probably our worst game in the tournament. We didn’t play at the level that we could play. I knew we were going to be good, but we didn’t have enough practice under our belt to be sound.”
A few days after the letdown to Jacksonville, Team Atlanta got its revenge in the title match. Down seven points with 25 seconds remaining, the locals marched down the length of the field to score a touchdown, which, following the successful one-point conversion, forced overtime. In OT, Atlanta, once again down seven, scored on its fourth attempt when quarterback Cooper Bernath found wideout Mikey Wilson in the back of the endzone to pull within one. Rather than settling for a tie and more OT play, Team Atlanta went for two. Success. Bernath connected with Beldick, who scampered across the goal line for the two-point conversion to seal the championship.
“It [game-winning catch] was something I will never forget in my life,” said Daron Beldick. “It completely made my Maccabi experience. I am so thankful I got the opportunity to play. That and how we handled adversity and turned the pressure into fuel during the playoffs.”
Behind the dynamic offensive trio of Bernath, Beldick and tight end Isaac Wolf, and a stout defense anchored by edge rushers Ari Goldberg and Isaac Katz and cornerbacks Jake Barras and Zack Siegel, Team Atlanta couldn’t be denied this summer in Southern California.
“Even after losing three games in a row, we all believed in ‘Gold or Bust’ and it kept us motivated,” said quarterback Bernath, a sophomore at Riverwood whose primary sport is baseball, in which he excels as a third baseman and pitcher and aspires to play in college one day.
McCrae, a former JCC employee who has a strong coaching background in both middle school and high school, was very invested in his team, one comprised largely of students attending Riverwood High School.
Some may return to Atlanta’s 16U flag football team in the next Maccabi Games while others might try their hand at tackle football later in their teenage years. Regardless, no one will ever take away their emergence as one of two Atlanta teams (the other being boys 14U soccer) to win gold at the JCC Maccabi Games this past summer.
“Watching young men grow from Day 1 to Day 5, they grew up a lot as young men,” said McCrae. “They became very in tune with themselves. They became a family. I thoroughly enjoyed all of those young men greatly.”
The feelings are mutual.
“It means so much to us to get him [McCrae] a gold medal,” added Bernath. “He’s a great mentor to all of us. Ronald said this year will probably be his last year, but we might be able to convince him.”
- David Ostrowsky
- JCC Maccabi Games
- San Diego
- Team Atlanta
- Boys 16U Flag Football
- Daron Beldick
- Gavi Abraham
- Gold or Bust
- Ronald McCrae
- Robert Beldick
- Sapir Realty
- Cooper Bernath
- Mikey Wilson
- Isaac Wolf
- Ari Goldberg
- Isaac Katz
- Jake Barras
- Zack Siegel
- Riverwood High School
- 14U soccer