Delegation capped at 50
By Claudia Hurst
The 2023 JCC Maccabi Games will kick off on Aug. 6 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Team Dallas will bring 48 athletes to compete in soccer, basketball and volleyball.
As a Maccabi veteran, competing in Birmingham, Atlanta and Orange County, I was surprised to see the dropoff in the number of athletes Team Dallas was bringing to the games and the sports offered. When I played, Team Dallas was always one of the largest delegations at the JCC Maccabi Games. We brought more than 100 athletes and the diversity of teams included baseball, swimming, tennis, flag football, bowling, dance and even ping-pong in addition to the sports Team Dallas will be competing in this summer.
This drastic decline in participation is in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic, two cities would host the Maccabi Games, splitting the number of delegations that would attend each location. However, Liela Majedi, Dallas delegation head, explained that during this period of rebuilding the games since 2020, Maccabi has been hosted in only one North American location. Majedi said this change has limited the resources that each host city can provide, thus constricting the number of athletes permitted to participate in the games.
“Host communities have a challenge because there’s a lot of kids that want to go. There is no question that kids are turned away all across the country, and that’s something that JCCA [JCC Association] is working to try to fix and the only way to fix it is to have additional host communities.” said Artie Allen, JCC CEO.
Team Dallas brought 50 athletes to the 2022 Maccabi Games in San Diego, their first time competing since 2019. With a successful experience and a desire to rebuild the sweeping delegation they once had, leadership from Team Dallas submitted a request to bring 100 athletes to the 2023 Maccabi Games. This request was rejected and Team Dallas was granted only 50 spots again in the 2023 games.
“It is based on the size of the host community and what the host community is able to accommodate,” Majedi said.
The Dallas Maccabi leadership has tirelessly worked to keep Maccabi relevant in the Dallas community since the pandemic. Their work was acknowledged with more than 120 kids trying out for the games this summer. However, the cap that JCCA placed on Team Dallas has prevented their attempt to grow and rebuild.
Majedi explained that the goal is that Team Dallas will be able to bring more athletes to the 2024 Maccabi Games as it returns to offering two host cities; however, Majedi said that she believes it will take more time for Team Dallas to be permitted to bring more athletes.
This appears counterintuitive.
On one hand, the JCCA wants to rebuild the games, but in a city like Dallas when there is interest and enthusiasm, the cap on the number of participants is turning competitive athletes away. Before the pandemic, the JCC Maccabi Games were a rite of passage for players in the Dallas Jewish community. The objective should be to resurrect this attitude.
Barry Waranch, longtime boys’ soccer coach, explained this desire to keep the games relevant. “The biggest thing, to me, is losing momentum. I believe we’re undermining that enthusiasm [for Maccabi in Dallas]. So, there will probably be less people that are interested in the future because the excitement has not been building,” he said.
Waranch continued to explain that when more athletes are involved in Maccabi, then the support for Maccabi grows exponentially in the community through the family and friends of each individual athlete that participates.
However, the cap on Team Dallas does not only affect the athletes that were not chosen to participate, but also it influences the experiences of the athletes that are competing.
Scott Green, under-16 boys’ basketball coach, explained that the size of his team was condensed to allow athletes to participate in other sports for Team Dallas. This year, the team will compete with seven players; however, nine would have been preferred to enhance their squad with the ability for substitutions and reduce possibility of injury.
Waranch explained a similar situation for his under-16 boys’ soccer team. “Coaching under-16 boys’ soccer in the past, that team will have 10 to 12 players that we bring and every year there is no problem with that in Dallas. We can also fill the under-14 boys’ soccer team the same way. This year, for the under-16 team, I have five [players] from Dallas and the under-14 coach is bringing four [players] from Dallas. We are automatically being turned into these mixed teams and it’s hard. I will not have any opportunity to train with the whole team [before we play]. It is what it is, but it’s also simultaneously unfair to the team and the concept of the team trying to play together.”
Waranch has been in constant communication with the players from Pittsburgh that will be joining his team in Fort Lauderdale. He also mentioned that he plans to bring the Pittsburgh players some Dallas- or Texas-themed shirts to build camaraderie and make them feel welcome. “I won’t lose any sort of enthusiasm. We will create a silly Pittsburgh and Dallas cheer and we will make it fun.”
Although Green and Waranch have a positive outlook on the situation, the 50-athlete cap that was put on Team Dallas is putting their teams at a disadvantage.
Alan Sandler, under-16 girls’ soccer coach, is bringing a full team to compete in Fort Lauderdale. He told the TJP that in addition to the under-16 girls’ soccer competition, the JCCA is trying to start an under-14 girls’ soccer division. In an effort to establish this new movement, the JCCA told Team Dallas that if they could bring an under-14 girls’ soccer team, those players would not count toward the 50-player limit.
I appreciate JCCA’s recognition that the girls need an under-14 division just as the boys have had in the past. However, this approach displays that the host city could perhaps host more members of Team Dallas, as long as it fits the agenda of the JCCA.
This forces the Dallas community to wonder, if the goal is to reestablish the once vibrant magic of the Maccabi Games, then why is a delegation like Dallas, that has historically been an anchor for the games, being limited?
Claudia Hurst is a rising sophomore at University of Michigan and TJP summer intern.