Last year in Richmond, Va., Philadelphia found itself in the gold-medal game against a team from Long Island, N.Y. — and again the score was even. With 1:47 left on the clock, however, a Long Island player put one past Fenkell's pads, and Philadelphia settled for silver.
"Every time we came so close, it was taken away from us," said Fenkell, who wound up in the finals in this year's competition held, Aug. 13-18 in Vancouver, Canada. In many cities hosting the annual games, hockey is played at the closest available rink, which usually puts the sport a long drive away from the rest of the Olympic-style competition. In the capital of British Columbia, however, hockey took center stage.
In this year's final game, Philadelphia once again faced D.C., and with his team ahead 2-1, Fenkell held his ground, then gleefully watched his team put up two more goals. When the clock hit zero, Philadelphia won the game 4-1 — and Fenkell had finally earned a gold medal.
"It felt like a 1,000-pound weight was lifted off our backs," he said. "This year, I came back and said, 'It's not happening again — we're winning gold.' "
The JCC Maccabi Games featured athletes ages 13-16 competing in baseball, softball, basketball, soccer, flag football, inline hockey, table tennis, tennis, swimming, dance, golf, bowling, track, racquetball and volleyball. Games were held first in Phoenix from Aug. 6-11, then the following week in Vancouver; and Stamford, Conn.
Competitors who hailed from the United States and abroad stayed with host families over the course of the five-day competition. Competing in Vancouver and Phoenix, Philadelphia competitors took home a total of 85 medals.
The softball competition proved bittersweet for Caroline Miller, a 16-year-old softball player who helped Philadelphia earn a bronze medal in Phoenix; due to age, this was her last competition.
"It was really hard. I've known most of the girls for three or four years," said the pitcher and first baseman. "It's good going out with a medal, but it's hard leaving everyone."
Miller had the opportunity to play alongside her twin sister Tara, who had never competed in Maccabi. With Philadelphia down 5-0 in the bronze-medal game, the Millers helped the team rally to a 9-6 win. They then threw a large jug of ice water on their coaches — a fitting end to Caroline Miller's Maccabi career.
"They were pumped," said coach Mark Cardonick, who caught the brunt of the icy water while standing in the 105-degree Arizona sun. "When you see the smiles on their faces, it's all worthwhile."
Traveling from Philadelphia to Vancouver proved arduous for athletes like golfer David Carel, 15, whose clubs never made it onto his flight. Entered into a two-day tournament, Carel was forced to play the first round with clubs provided by the hosting country club — even though the set was comprised of completely different brands, and was missing some important clubs, like a three-iron and a sand wedge. "It was difficult. I never played with them before," said Carel, who finished the first day with an 84 — tied for fourth place. "But I was thankful to have clubs at all."
Just an hour before he was scheduled to tee off in the second (and final) round, the airline delivered Carel's clubs and he responded brilliantly, scoring a 76 and his combined score of 160 was enough to win the gold medal.
"I was hitting the ball really well," he said. "I felt so comfortable knowing that I finally had my clubs back."
Travel complications also proved to be an issue for the Philadelphia 16-and-under basketball team. After a long flight to Seattle and a traffic jam on the way to Vancouver, the team reached their host family houses at midnight or later — with a game scheduled the next morning at 8 a.m. With a lack of sleep, Philadelphia lost two games to the eventual gold and silver winners, but qualified for the secondary bracket.
After breezing through the competition, they faced off against Baltimore for the gold, but found themselves down by eight points with just two minutes to go. After scoring, Philadelphia used a full-court press defense to steal the ball and get it to point guard John Kalin, who drilled two critical three-pointers to tie the game.
On the last play of the game, Kalin faked a shot, then passed it to a teammate who missed the net completely — but the ball fell into the hands of a Philadelphia player who easily scored as time expired.
"It was a great game," said Kalin, "one of the best games I ever took part in."
Robby Kay, Harrison Abrams, Lee Wexler, Jennifer Newman
Jeremy Allen, David Bernstein, Jonah Cohen, Jillian Glen, Sam Golden, Jake Perry, Meghan Shanley, Melissa Tabas
Mike Amole, Dan Rosenberg, Lee Wexler, David Carel, Jake Smith
Rachel Lande, Taylor McEwing
Rachel Goodman, Kendall Somer, Jacob Boylan, Zach Matz, Melissa Kauffman, Jordyn Horowitz
Rebecca Blank, Leah Dworkin, Ellen Goldstein, Rachel Knable, Lauren Lichterman, Caroline Miller, Tara Miller, Rachel Paston, Samantha Rose, Julia Schwartz, Marly Siegal
Joshua Altman, Ian Barnes, Max Fenkell, Jacob Goldberg, Kevin Keene, Justin Kozak, Michael Miller, Bryan Nack, Alexander Pascal, Paul Rubinsky, Ryan Wilson
Dana Albalancy, Erica Bash, Julia Ellis-Kahana, Evelyn Fleisher, Lexie Gerson, Hannah Korus, Rachel Lindsay, Jayne Sherman
Marc Berman, Todd Cramer, Jarred Dorfman, John Kalin, Zachary Kowalski, Joshua Leopold, Jacob Lerner, Matthew Rosenfeld, Ross Salmansohn
* Swimming list is incomplete.
List comes courtesy of Beth Segal, head of the Philadelphia JCC Maccabi Games Delegation