Atlanta 14U Soccer Team Triumphs at JCC Maccabi Games
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Atlanta 14U Soccer Team Triumphs at JCC Maccabi Games

Atlanta blanked Los Angeles 2-0 in the championship match at San Diego Jewish Academy en route to the top prize.

Atlanta’s 14U Boys Soccer Team made the city proud by taking home gold in this summer’s JCC Maccabi Games in San Diego. Top row, L-R: Ethan Peck, Samuel Kessler, Ryan Katz (Captain), Brady Traub, Matthew Grant, Dean Katz, Glenn Frank (Coach). Bottom row, L-R: Brandon Frank, Tal Elkounovitch, Lawson Sher (GK), Lucas Federico, Ari Elkounovitch (V-Captain) (GK).
Atlanta’s 14U Boys Soccer Team made the city proud by taking home gold in this summer’s JCC Maccabi Games in San Diego. Top row, L-R: Ethan Peck, Samuel Kessler, Ryan Katz (Captain), Brady Traub, Matthew Grant, Dean Katz, Glenn Frank (Coach). Bottom row, L-R: Brandon Frank, Tal Elkounovitch, Lawson Sher (GK), Lucas Federico, Ari Elkounovitch (V-Captain) (GK).

Last month in San Diego, the JCC Maccabi Games — the biggest Jewish teen sports event in North America — celebrated its 40th anniversary. Since its inception in 1982, the Maccabi Games have engaged over a half million Jewish teens in Olympic-style competition across a wide spectrum of sports, including soccer, tennis, golf, baseball, basketball, flag football, volleyball, swimming and ice hockey.

Hosted by JCC Association of North America, the 2022 Games involved over 1,500 teens from 20 states, four Canadian territories, as well as from South America and Europe.

Looking back now, it seems safe to say that Atlanta was well-represented.
Two Atlanta-based teams, 16U Boys Flag Football and 14U Boys Soccer, took home gold, with the latter squad reeling off an immaculate 6-0 run en route to the top prize.

After breezing through the preliminary rounds and a bronze medal game, Atlanta blanked Los Angeles 2-0 in the championship match at San Diego Jewish Academy behind some dominant goaltending from Lawson Sher and captain Ari Elkounovitch, along with a pair of goals courtesy of Lucas Federico and Elkounovitch.

Atlanta’s head coach, Glenn Frank, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, whose son, Brandon, is on the team, was very familiar with several of these players, some of whom he had been coaching since they were five-year-olds. Coaching this 14U team, one largely comprised of incoming high school freshmen, however, marks the first time that Frank has been reunited with the athletes in several years.

“It was just a cool culmination, that team from when they were little boys to going out and representing Atlanta in the Maccabi Games,” says Frank, who is no stranger to the JCC Maccabi Games, both as a player and coach, having patrolled the sidelines during the 2019 Games in Atlanta.

“All of the kids will have the ability, in my opinion, to play [in] high school. There’s no doubt about that.”

When they weren’t steamrolling teams from Southern California, Dallas and Miami, the Atlanta boys were soaking up San Diego’s postcard weather, visiting SeaWorld, catching a Padres game, or stopping by one of the region’s stunning beaches. Of course, it was a bonus to be able to enjoy such idyllic experiences alongside fellow members of the Jewish community, whether they hailed from Cleveland or Bulgaria.

Atlanta’s Ethan Peck (center) celebrated with his teammates after knocking off Los Angeles in the gold medal match.

“It was a great experience because everybody there was Jewish,” says Dunwoody’s Keith Peck, a co-owner and managing partner of Prime Tower Development, whose Weber-bound son, Ethan, held down the Atlanta attack. “I’d walk around different games and just start talking to some of the other parents, and we’d play that Jewish geography thing. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was a great feeling to be around all these other people.”

While the opening and closing ceremonies were sprinkled with elements of Judaic culture, the overwhelming focus of the Maccabi Games was on just that — the games themselves.

Ethan Peck registered five goals and assisted on several others during the weeklong tourney. Like many of his Maccabi teammates, he’s been playing academy and club soccer for the better part of his life. But this was his first time on the international stage, which was no easy task, given that the Atlanta roster was put together at the last minute.

“It [the Maccabi Games] was pretty much the main event of my summer,” said Ethan, whose first glimpse of Maccabi action was during the ’19 Games in Atlanta — the last time the event had been held. “I got to meet people from different cities. Overall, it was pretty good. There weren’t really that many bad moments. I do know them all [teammates] pretty well after Maccabi.”

An alum of The Davis Academy, Peck looks forward to cracking Weber’s varsity soccer roster this spring, even though it will mean skipping out on his second favorite sport, tennis. But with his sights set on returning to the Maccabi Games next summer — slated for Fort Lauderdale — and perhaps even playing in college one day, forgoing tennis is a worthwhile sacrifice.

“I’m definitely going to see how far I can get with soccer,” says Peck, who, according to longtime coach Glenn Frank, has become a more aggressive and vocal player over the years. “So, if I can play college soccer, it’s something I would love to do.”

Some members of Atlanta’s 14U Boys Soccer team will surely play in college. Maybe a few have even loftier ambitions. But, regardless of where their individual soccer journeys take them, summer 2022 will always go down as a special one. It wasn’t just a week of breakaway goals, timely saves, and textbook passing that translated to a perfect 6-0 record.

It was participating in a decades-long tradition, one that has showcased Olympic gold medalists Mark Spitz and Mitch Gaylord, NBA players Ernie Grunfeld and Danny Schayes — as well as tennis legends Brad Gilbert and Dick Savitt — and still continues to galvanize young Jewish athletes from all corners of America, if not the world.

“The first day everyone comes in on flights,” recalls Frank. “You go in and check in and everyone’s eyeing each other up. By the end of it, everyone’s giving each other hugs. It really does bring these kids from all over the place together.”

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