Kaiserman JCC Prepares for the Thousands Coming for the Junior Maccabi Games

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A pile of Maccabi t-shirts
A small selection of the 1,400 T-shirts printed for the 21st Junior Maccabi Games. (Photo courtesy of Amy Krulik)

The planning for this year’s 21st Junior Maccabi Games, hosted by the Kaiserman JCC, began about a year ago — in the car ride back from the 20th Games, held in Owings Mills, Maryland. If that sounds slightly premature, this might be your first Junior Maccabi Games.

For Amy Krulik, CEO of the Kaiserman JCC, it was right on time.

“When you think about how many moving parts there are, we are basically creating the Olympics for one day,” she said.

The Mid-Atlantic Junior Maccabi Games will be held on May 5 at various locations throughout Lower Merion. What began as the Tri-State Junior Maccabi Games in 1998 with around 550 athletes has morphed into a much larger event, involving nearly 1,000 athletes and coaches. Krulik remembers a press release she sent out for the 1998 Games that read, “Maccabi Mania hits the Main Line!” — if only she could’ve known what real mania was to come.

This year’s games will bring delegations from 15 JCCs, traveling from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The athletes, ages 9-12, will compete in basketball, soccer, baseball, tennis and swimming (track and field was dropped for lack of interest; co-ed flag football, too, as only the Kaiserman JCC had enough players to field a team).

Krulik is expecting around 4,000 spectators this year, as each athlete brings along an entourage of parents, siblings, grandparents and extended family members. Basketball is the most popular event, with nearly 50 teams competing, and soccer is close behind.

This will also be just the second year that the Junior Maccabi Games is incorporating 9-year-olds into events. The divisions are split in two, with a 9-10 year-olds group and an 11-12 year-olds group. That arrangement, Krulik believes, “has made for a really rich and wonderful sports experience for all of the kids. The competition is stiff and the kids play hard and it’s a lot of fun.”

The day will kick off with opening ceremonies at 8 a.m., spread out on the main fields at Kaiserman JCC. Of course, for the hundreds of volunteers, the day will have begun hours before, as food is transported, coaches who park at the JCC are driven to where their teams are and referees arrive at their assigned fields, courts and pools. The games begin at 10 a.m., spread out across six locations — the Kaiserman JCC, Friends Central School, Penn Wynne Park, South Ardmore Park, The Baldwin School and Harriton High School.

The logistical concerns for Krulik and the planning committee are endless. For those coming from out of town, she was sure to remind them that the Broad Street Run would also be taking place that day; please, she begged, make sure to book hotel rooms west of Broad Street. “Is it really that big of a deal?” out-of-towners asked, on one hand; “Why is it the same day as the Broad Street Run?” natives wanted to know.

“And I’m like, have you ever looked at the Jewish community calendar?” Krulik said with a laugh. “This is not so easy.”

About 1,400 T-shirts have been printed for athletes, coaches and volunteers. Krulik’s office is covered wall-to-wall in Utz pretzels, Bissli and other snacks being distributed throughout the day, to say nothing of the rest of the lunch items that will be dispersed. One point of pride for the organizers of this year’s games is that they’ve cut down on disposable water bottles; in year’s past, they may have used close to 15,000 water bottles. This year, they have just 1,000, and there will be “water buffaloes” — large water tanks sprouting spigots and hoses — at each location.

“The venues where we’re working have been incredibly helpful in making that happen,” Krulik said.

Most of the referees will come from local referee companies that the JCC typically uses, she added, though many of the refs will be volunteers; soccer line judges will be high school Maccabi athletes, and many of the pool timers will be parents and swimmers.

Another important factor to keep in mind for a day of athletic competition: on-site medical care.

Scott Goldstein, director of EMS/disaster medicine at the Einstein Healthcare Network, will serve as the medical director at the games, along with 11 other volunteers who will be spread out among the different sites. There will be emergency medical responders, orthopedic surgeons, athletic trainers and rehab physicians on-site, each with a carefully curated bag of supplies created by Goldstein and his team. Much of the planning concerns the athletes, but considerations had to be made for the spectators as well, he said.

“Taking care of that huge cadre of age discrepancies is daunting, to say the least,” he said. One thing that all attendees should remember: “Probably sun block,” he said.

Security is also a priority. Krulik said that the Lower Merion Police Department and federal law enforcement have developed comprehensive plans with the organizing committee to ensure a safe day for attendees.

The day should be finished by 7 p.m. at the latest, Krulik said — mostly depending on baseball, of course, the only untimed sport of the day. For her, a successful day will not involve distributing the hundreds of rain ponchos bought for the event, nor breaking out the emergency rain plan.

More importantly, Krulik said, she hopes “every kid goes home happy, tired and dirty, but having had a wonderful experience, having made some new friends and having a great appreciation for our wonderful community in Philadelphia.”

And one more thing: “having had no conversations with any emergency personnel of any kind,” she said.

[email protected]; 215-832-0740

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