The games are coming to Philadelphia in 2011.
No, not the Olympics or the World Cup, not the Super Bowl or the Final Four, either. We're talking the annual JCC Maccabi Games, which are set to make a return visit to the area next August.
Organizers expect them to attract about 1,000 athletes worldwide between the ages of 13 and 16, as well as about 250 local players, and 250 chaperones and coaches. The local region generally brings the largest delegation of any in the country.
Philly first hosted the games in 2001 under the auspices of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia. Now, with the decentralization of that system, next year's games will be hosted by the Kaiserman JCC. All events during the Aug. 14-19 competition are expected to take place along the Main Line.
Athletes will compete in some 14 events, including track, basketball, baseball and swimming. Organizers are also hoping to include women's lacrosse, which hasn't been done in the past.
But organizers emphasize that the games represent more than just sports. Competitors also take part in social events, learn about Israel and participate in "Day of Caring, Day of Sharing" — a community-wide service project to give back to the host community.
During the 2001 games, a carnival for special-needs children was held at the Haverford School; it has since become an annual tradition there.
"I feel like that's our legacy," Beth Segal, the games' director, said, adding that the goal for next year is to do something similar through a partnership with the Special Olympics.
Although most years, three different cities split the games, only two have stepped up to host in 2011. Springfield, Mass., will be the other venue, and is expected to attract a similar number of participants as Philadelphia.
The event and its related activities will cost about $1.5 million, according to Segal, which is being sought through sponsorships, individual contributions, foundations and more.
"It's not optional — we need the games supported," said Eric Shipon, who is helping plan the event, and is also a girls' soccer coach for the games.
The Jewish Exponent is a partner in the games.
Beyond the Sports Story
Although it may seem a long time away, organizers are well on their way to forming committees, negotiating site contracts and recruiting host families to house the visiting athletes.
To be eligible to host a player, families need to live within a 30-minute radius of the Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood.
Participating athletes are slated to come from all over the globe, including Israel, Great Britain, Canada, Mexico and Argentina. An estimated 500 area families are needed to house the these young people while they compete.
Host families, said Segal, often form lasting relationships with their guests. She recalled that in 2001, a Polish softball team came to Philadelphia to compete — arriving early, speaking little English and with only minimal equipment.
Before too long, the competitors were "adopted" by a local Polish family, and word of their needs spread throughout the community. By the time the team was scheduled to return home, they had acquired so much gear that some of it actually had to be shipped back — new suitcases even had to be purchased to store it all for the journey.
Shipon and Segal stressed that kind of camaraderie as being part and parcel of the JCC Maccabi Games experience.
"The kids come home," said Shipon, "and the last thing they talk about is sports."