Matt Miller stared at the soccer ball just a few feet away, wondering which direction it would fly. A teammate's advice for how to save this penalty kick was still echoing in his head: "Just pick a side."
With the score of his Junior Maccabi semifinal game still tied at 0-0, the pressure was on. The 12-year-old needed to make this save.
Just pick a side …
Once the ball was kicked, Miller chose to dive to his right, luckily stopping the ball and sending it out of bounds. Had the kicker flung the ball in the other direction, things might have turned out differently.
"Everyone was going nuts," said Miller.
The save sent a rush of adrenaline through his team and on the ensuing corner kick, one of his Bucks County JCC Without Walls teammates stole the ball. The team worked it upfield with newfound energy, then capped it off with the go-ahead goal.
The Bucks County team won the championship game as well, earning the gold medal for boys soccer. Although Miller did not let up a single goal in any of the five games of the tournament, he remained humble about his performance.
"It doesn't take a good goalie to win a game," said Miller. "It takes a good team, and we pulled together and won."
The May 15 Junior Maccabi games filled out a day's worth of competitions in Harrisburg. Gov. Ed Rendell led the opening ceremonies for the games, which featured boys and girls from ages 10 to 12 competing in soccer, basketball, tennis, table-tennis and swimming. With the entire competition held over the course of the same day, it became an endurance test for some teams, which were drawn from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
The Bux-Mont JCC Without Walls boys basketball team, for example, had only five players – and thus no replacements – and still managed to work through their exhaustion and play every minute of every game. The Fort Washington-based team even captured a bronze medal.
In their first two games, the Bux-Mont team breezed through the competition with such sustained force that the people at the scoring table eventually stopped flipping their score higher whenever they made a basket, according to Bux-Mont coach Bruce Brownstein.
But as the competition wore on, the games became more and more strenuous.
"I couldn't move, I was so tired," declared Jake Brownstein, Bruce's son, who plays guard alongside his brother Benny.
Having a roster of only five players caught up to the team in its only loss. One of the forwards committed some early fouls; if he fouled out, Bux-Mont would have to forfeit. The player then had to be soft on defense and, in the process, allowed some easy baskets.
"If we had one guy on the bench that we could have spared – who knows," said the coach.
By the time he received his medal, Jake Brownstein was utterly drained.
"It was the first time that he fell asleep in the car since he was 2 years old," recalled his dad.
Other notable performances include the Kaiserman JCC winning gold in girls basketball, silver in boys soccer, four medals in tennis and 12 gold medals for swimming; and the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, N.J., winning 11 gold medals in swimming, one medal for tennis and one medal for table tennis.
The girls and boys of the JCC Klein Branch swimming team did well in the competition, with all five team members gaining multiple medals – seven gold, seven silver and five bronze.
"The kids worked really hard for it," said Valerie Teich. "Next year will be their last year. Hopefully, they go up to the next level of Maccabi games."
Her daughter, Jasmine, understands the value of her team's hard work in the pool practicing for the games.
"At the beginning of the season, some of us weren't that good," admitted the 11-year-old, who earned one gold medal and two bronze medals in Harrisburg.
Summing up the long hard day of competition, she said: "It's tiring, but it's fun."