The morning Stacie Francombe talked to this reporter there were 199 days until the start of the JCC Maccabi Games in Atlanta.
But who’s counting?
Francombe, the 2019 Maccabi Games director, exuded confidence as she and the games staff worked through a checklist of tasks to be completed before the Sunday, July 28, opening ceremony.
“Everything is great, and I mean that genuinely,” said Francombe, a veteran of the event planning industry and, before that, television sports at CNN and Turner Broadcasting. “Everything is running on schedule. Some stuff is ahead of schedule. Some stuff comes up, of course.”
Beginning on July 28 and ending with a closing event on Thursday, Aug. 1, Atlanta will host the annual sports festival for Jewish boys and girls, ages 12 to 16.
Some 1,200 visitors will join 400 of their Atlanta peers for a week of competition on fairways, fields and courts, on lanes and in lanes, and on stage. Away from the competition, there will be social activities and a community service project.
Teams representing 27 Jewish community centers in the United States, and others from Canada, Mexico and Panama, are coming to Atlanta. Thanks to assistance from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, a delegation will come from the Israeli sister city of Yokneam-Megiddo.
The boys and girls will stay in local homes. Many of the 500 host families needed will come from the ranks of Team Atlanta members, who each can expect to welcome two or more guests. Additional hosts are being sought, “but we have already seen great support from the Atlanta community offering up their homes and time,” Francombe said.
The hosts will: provide breakfast and snacks; drive to and from the competition hubs; and launder a lot of sweaty uniforms. Housing arrangements take into account such factors as dietary needs, including keeping kosher and religious observance.
Competitions will be held in flag football, basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, ultimate Frisbee, swimming, dance, golf, tennis, bowling, table tennis, and track and field. Participants in a program called “star reporter” will write about their delegation’s activities, take photographs and use social media.
Team Atlanta has selected its squads for team sports, and tryouts for individual sports will be Jan. 20-30.
Some 1,500 volunteers will be needed to staff the games. “We are actively recruiting volunteers to help the week of the games. There are opportunities for everyone,” and not limited to the Jewish community, Francombe said. “We have had such an amazing response to Maccabi since we launched all of this that I know people are going to come out and volunteer.”
The primary competition venues at the Marcus JCC and the Marist School will be supplemented by 10 to 15 other sites.
Although the games usually use a single hub, at the local JCC, the number of competitions and Atlanta’s notorious traffic made two hubs desirable. To reduce the headaches posed by Atlanta’s legendary traffic, most events will take place in the middle of the day. A fleet of 50 buses will transport athletes, coaches and officials between the hubs and competition sites.
Multiple levels of security, from federal to local, have been involved in the planning. “Without revealing too much, the JCC Maccabi Games are a multifaceted security event. It is all-hands-on-deck, and our security team is working diligently to ensure all participants’ safety,” Francombe said.
Keeping the athletes hydrated, particularly those competing outdoors, will be a challenge. The average high temperature in late July and early August in Atlanta is 88, degrees and the chance of rain averages about 40 percent.
Coca-Cola, a national sponsor of the JCC Maccabi Games, will provide its water and sports drink products at the venues.
The Maccabi Games staff is working with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to arrange for medical staff at the MJCCA and Marist, as well as trainers at competition venues and doctors available on call.
The athletes will eat at the MJCCA and Marist hubs, where they also can relax in “hang time” rooms staffed by Israelis.
Members of a “teen advisory board” are assigned to each of the planning committees, offering their input on such items as food and snacks to be served at the hubs and other aspects of the week’s activities.
The games will begin the evening of July 28, with an Olympic-style ceremony at the Ameris Bank Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, formerly Verizon Amphitheatre. Still to be determined are which sports personalities will participate at the opening ceremony.
The closing party will be on the evening of Thursday, Aug. 1, at an as-yet unannounced location.
On Monday night, July 29, the Maccabi participants will visit the Nitro Zone amusement center in Peachtree Corners, and the next evening’s outing will be at the Georgia Aquarium. Host families will plan events for their guests on Wednesday night, July 31.
The JCC Maccabi Games are designed to promote community involvement and pride in being Jewish. Emphasis is placed on two values: Rachmanus (compassion) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), which also are central to a planned community service day for the teams.
To that end, the boys and girls will participate in a “JCC Cares” project to benefit the Israel Sport Center for the Disabled. Local organizations working with the disabled may be engaged as part of this effort.
The Atlanta games also will feature an inclusion program, making it possible for young people with special needs to participate in such events as bowling and track and field.
“We want to make it a meaningful and a great experience for the kids who can and want to participate,” Francombe said, adding that a separate committee is dedicated to broadening access to the games.
The Maccabi Games were last held in Atlanta in 2001. The MJCCA was selected to host in 2007, but withdrew because of financial problems.
The games are an expensive undertaking, for which $1.5 million in donations (financial and in-kind) are being sought. “The Games never stop fundraising; every dollar earned goes towards making the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games the best one yet,” Francombe said.
Since the inaugural JCC Maccabi Games in Memphis in 1982, more than 120,000 Jewish teens from the United States, Israel and other nations have participated.
The JCC Maccabi Games, a program of the JCC Association of North America, is not affiliated with Maccabi USA, which sends teams of American Jewish athletes, youth and adults to international competitions, including the quadrennial Maccabiah Games in Israel.
There are two JCC Maccabi summer events annually. Detroit will host both an 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.
Francombe praised everyone working to prepare for the games.
“The support that we have from the Maccabi staff here and the support we have from our leadership team (co-chairs Libby Hertz and Amy Rubin) is like nothing anybody has ever seen before. Everybody has so much passion. Without their support and their commitment and determination, this doesn’t work,” Francombe said.