Five days, seven hours, and 40 minutes is the time displayed on the ticker at the bottom of the Jewish Community Center Maccabi Games Web site. As the ticker nears closer to the Aug. 8 starting date of the Games, it also represents the time gap until the Pittsburgh delegation of athletes will be together as an entire team.
Many of the athletes representing team Pittsburgh are currently at Emma Kaufmann Camp in West Virginia for the summer, which lets out on the same day those athletes are heading to Baltimore for the Games.
“It is not an ideal situation,” said Alan Mallinger, director of Pittsburgh Maccab. “One of our mothers is going to EKC early on that Sunday morning to pick up the kids, and then it will be right out of the car and onto the bus for Baltimore.”
While most of the athletes have not had the proper amount of practice time to form a cohesive group, Mallinger has taken steps to make sure the team receives as much practice time as possible.
Last week, Mallinger traveled to EKC with four of the five basketball players not at the camp.
“It was very hot,” Mallinger said. “But we got a lot of good work in, and started to look good as a team.”
Sam Bloom, EKC director, was happy to host the members of the Maccabi team.
“It is great to help out the Maccabi team,” Bloom said. “We have two basketball courts for them to use, and we even got the kids involved in some camp activities.”
The kids ate with all of the campers, and even listened to a few guest speakers. Bloom made sure the kids who attend EKC did not miss out on the camp experience while practicing for the Games. He said the kids only missed two activities a day at most.
It remains to be seen if the sporadic training sessions the team has had will lead to a rough start at the games.
The hectic traveling schedule for these athletes will end as the team gathers for the Games’ opening ceremonies at Towson State University. Representing team Pittsburgh will be 20 athletes participating in sports such as soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis and girl’s lacrosse.
For the first time, Maccabi Games will coincide with the Maccabi Artsfest. Traditionally, the Artsfest is held at a separate venue from the Games.
“No one has ever wanted to have both of these events at the same location,” Mallinger said. “Baltimore stepped up to do it this year and it is very exciting.”
One reason the Maccabi Games and Artsfest have never been together is a lack of host families. With both events being held together, there will be a cut back on the number of athletes that will be in attendance at the games. There are only so many families that are willing to host, and with the influx of so many Artsfest participants something had to give.
The Maccabi Artsfest is designed to inspire Jewish teens through a combination of workshops. This year’s workshops include acting, dance, creative writing, theatre and sports broadcasting. Professionals from each respective field will be guiding the teens to express their own creativity.
Pittsburgh will send one representative to the Artsfest, Sarah Kennedy, who will participate in the dance portion.
“The Artsfest is a great learning experience for kids not involved in athletics,” Mallinger said. “Those kids still get to have the Maccabi experience.”
The 20 kids representing Pittsburgh will participate in more than just athletic activities while they are in Baltimore. As part of every Maccabi Games, the athletes will get involved in a “day of caring and sharing,” which involves each individual team being assigned to help with a community service activity.
In past years, Pittsburgh teams have gone school shopping for under privileged kids, decorated garbage cans to be dispersed through the community, written letters to sick children, among other events. Each of the events are designed to help in the area where the games are held.
“It’s a nice program to let the kids know there is more to Maccabi than the sports aspect,” Mallinger said.
In addition to the day of caring and sharing, the kids will be treated to multiple nights out during the week. There will be a trip to Dave and Buster’s, along with a host family night. During the host family night the kids will have a chance to bond with their host family through cookouts and other various activities.
“The kids are playing their sports all day, and after night activities their host families pick them up around 10 o’clock, at which point they have to get ready for the next day,” Mallinger said. “This is a good chance for the host family to get to know their athlete.”
The Games will conclude on Thursday, August 13. There will be a closing ceremony featuring moon bounces, live DJs and a passing of the torch ceremony. Mallinger said it is like a big party for all of the kids.
This year, the kids from Artsfest will be putting on a performance at the closing ceremony highlighting all they have learned through the week.
(Brandt Gelman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)