Let the Maccabi Games Begin
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Let the Maccabi Games Begin

When Atlanta throws a party, the locals aim to impress out-of-town guests... that’s what Stacie Francombe has in mind for the upcoming Maccabi Games.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The heads of the visiting delegations who came to visit Atlanta in advance of this summer’s JCC Maccabi Games, returning to the city for the first time since 2001.
The heads of the visiting delegations who came to visit Atlanta in advance of this summer’s JCC Maccabi Games, returning to the city for the first time since 2001.

Atlanta has a deserved reputation for boosterism.

Only by blowing its horn loud and long did the railroad town called Terminus – from Latin, literally the “end of the line” – become the self-proclaimed capitol of the “New South.”

So, when Atlanta throws a party, the locals aim to impress out-of-town guests.

Think the 1939 premiere of the film “Gone with the Wind.”

Think the 1996 Centennial Olympic games.

Think the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games?

That’s what Stacie Francombe has in mind when she says that the Jewish youth sports festival “will be above and beyond what they’re used to from a Maccabi standpoint. Atlanta has elevated the JCC Maccabi experience in every way, shape and form.”

Francombe, director of the July 28-Aug. 2 Atlanta games, offered that assertion in early May, when the countdown calendar showed 86 days remaining until the July 28 opening ceremony at the Ameris Bank Amphitheatre in Alpharetta.

Team Atlanta ultimate Frisbee team will be participating in a sport making its JCC Maccabi Games debut in Atlanta.

The JCC Maccabi games, which debuted in Memphis in 1982, are returning to Atlanta for the first time since 2001. The Marcus JCC withdrew as host in 2007 because of financial problems.

The host, Team Atlanta, has set a JCC Maccabi games record for delegation size, with 600 boys and girls, including 13 from the Atlanta Jewish community’s Israeli sister city of Yokneam. “The turnout for tryouts was amazing,” Francombe said, and the number of Atlanta teams has meant bringing in 108 coaches, all volunteers.

Joining Team Atlanta will be about 1,100 other athletes, ages 12 to 16, from 35 visiting delegations, among them Israel, Mexico, Panama, and the Canadian cities of Toronto and Winnipeg.

Competitions will be held in flag football, basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, swimming, dance, golf, tennis, bowling, table tennis, track and field, and – for the first time – ultimate Frisbee. A program called “star reporter” will engage teens in gathering news and photographs.

Members of the Team Atlanta golf team who will compete in the games this summer.

The games’ hubs will be the MJCCA and the Marist School. For security reasons, the AJT was asked not to publish the location of other venues. That request also covered details about evening social outings, the opening ceremony entertainment, and plans for the closing night party.

“Logistically it’s a lot of moving pieces but everything is coming together nicely,” Francombe said.

The visiting boys and girls will stay in the homes of Jewish families. Many will come from the ranks of Team Atlanta, but Francombe said organizers were about halfway to meeting their goal of lining up about 550 homes that will be needed.

Among the host families will be Haim and Miriam Haviv of Sandy Springs. With two daughters on Team Atlanta, “I wanted to do it all the way. I want to be a host. I want to volunteer. I want to be there,” Miriam said.

Amalia Haviv, 15, a freshman at Pace Academy, is a volleyball player on both school and club teams. Gabby, who turns 12 before the games – the minimum age to participate – attends The Davis Academy, and is a dancer.

Haim and Miriam Haviv are the parents of athletes Gabby, second from left, and Amalia, right, members of Team Atlanta, and will host visiting athletes during the JCC Maccabi Games.

“I’m close to the JCC and it will elevate the whole experience if I have two extra girls” Miriam Haviv said of the guests the family will host. “I love sports for my girls, so this is the perfect combination.”

That this is a Jewish event adds to the experience, she said. The Havivs are members of Congregation B’nai Torah.

Also hosting will be Bill Mahle and Debbie Sumner, who live in Dunwoody and are members of Congregation Beth Shalom. In the past they hosted Israeli counselors working at the JCC and this year they hosted Israeli shinshinim emissaries.

Their oldest son, Sam Mahle, now 18, was a member of Team Atlanta twice. Ezra Mahle, a 15-year-old student at Dunwoody High School, will play flag football in his first JCC Maccabi games. Caleb Mahle, a 14-year-old graduating from The Davis Academy and bound for Dunwoody High, will compete on the inaugural ultimate Frisbee team.

Members of the Team Atlanta girls’ basketball team.

“We’re just looking forward to helping out the community and for our kids to get to know Jewish kids from other parts of the country, seeing commonalities and differences,” Sumner said.

The ranks of other volunteers are open beyond the Jewish community. Francombe said that only about one-third of the 1,500 volunteers needed had been registered. Volunteers, who must be age 18 or older, will work at the competition hubs and venues, ride on the fleet of buses that will transport athletes and coaches, and handle other duties.

The JCC Maccabi Games also promote community involvement and pride in being Jewish. Emphasis is placed on two values: rachmanus (compassion) and tikkun olam (repairing the world).

During a community service day, the boys and girls will create art to be displayed at the Shepherd Center brain and spinal cord rehabilitation facility in Atlanta and the Israel Sports Center for the Disabled, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. JCC Maccabi competitors also will attend an exhibition by wheelchair athletes.

The volunteer coaches of Team Atlanta. The record size of the host delegation, 600 boys and girls ages 12 to 16, necessitated bringing on more than 100 coaches.

Ensuring the security of competitors, coaches, and spectators will be law enforcement from local, state and federal agencies. While specifics about the security operation are not being released, “Rest assured that we have the team in place to make sure that the kids will be safe, that the spectators will be safe,” Francombe said.

Other important services will be provided by corporate sponsors.

Atlanta’s summer swelter is a concern. The average high temperature in late July and early August in Atlanta is 88 and the chance of rain averages about 40 percent. Coca-Cola, a national sponsor of the JCC Maccabi Games, is providing its Dasani waters and Powerade drinks at all of the venues.

Premier Sports Medicine, a JCC Maccabi games sponsor, is providing trainers at the hubs and at the venues of high-impact sports. The medical committee is arranging for the presence of volunteer doctors at the hubs, along with nurses and nurse practitioners.

Feeding the 1,600 boys and girls will be handled by Added Touch Catering.

Woodward Academy is making available its fleet of 55 buses to ferry athletes and coaches between the competition hubs and venues. The use of two hubs is unusual but was deemed necessary because of Atlanta’s traffic.

The Team Atlanta track and field team that will compete in this summer’s JCC Maccabi Games.

An estimated $1.5 million was the projected cost to host the JCC Maccabi games. Francombe said that while the fundraising is done, organizers continue to seek in-kind contributions and partnerships.

If anything has surprised her, it has been “the level of support and commitment from our lay leaders, especially our steering committee. It’s amazing to me the amount of time and energy and devotion and passion they devote to this and making sure it’s the best experience for the kids and the coaches and the host families.”

There are two JCC Maccabi summer events annually. Detroit will host both a JCC Maccabi athletic competition and the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest Aug. 4-9. ArtsFest includes acting/improv, culinary arts, dance, musical theater, rock band, social media squad, visual arts and vocal music.

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