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Making Philly Maccabi-Friendly

August 10, 2011 By:
Jared Shelly, JE Feature
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Meredith Manley strikes during a soccer match as she and her team prepare for the upcoming games. Photos by Greg Bezanis

With 1,500 athletes and coaches descending on Philadelphia for next week's JCC Maccabi Games, preparations for the Olympic-style competition for Jewish teens is quite an undertaking.

Armed with just two paid staffers, some interns and plenty of volunteers, Beth Segal, the games director, and Farrell Borine, executive director of the Kaiserman JCC, are feverishly working out the last-minute details as the Aug. 14 opening ceremonies rapidly approach.

They're tasked with transforming the Wynnewood campus into a home base for the athletes for the four days of competition. They have to provide 3,000 meals per day, as well as a place for the kids to hang out and participate in activities while not playing sports.

Segal is so swamped she can't even get into her office at the hosting facility, the Kaiserman JCC, because it's packed with boxes of T-shirts and equipment. She and her staff had to rent out some office space in a building across the street.

When the games commence, two separate bus loops -- 40 buses total -- will take the athletes to 19 different sporting venues around the area, including the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Arthur Ashe Tennis on Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia and the Competitive Edge Martial Arts Training Center in Fort Washington.

A total of 1,250 athletes between the ages of 13 and 16 -- including the 250 locals who make up Team Philadelphia -- will be competing in basketball, soccer, in-line hockey, lacrosse, dance and more. And then there are an additional 1,000 visiting parents who are expected.

Segal and Borine are making sure all of the playing venues have cold drinks, medics, volunteers and scorekeepers.

Trucks will deliver Port-O-Potties to many of the spots. Will there be enough toilet paper? Each day, hundreds of bags of ice will be delivered to Kaiserman. What's the best way to store it all?

"That's the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night," said Segal, a Maccabi veteran who helped run the games when they were last held in Philadelphia in 2001. "Right now, it's truly about the minute details -- and there are a bazillion of them."

The Maccabi games also include a community-service component, which meant the organizers needed to arrange for all the youth to participate in a host of local projects.

"The Days of Caring and Sharing are a great partnership with community organizations to teach kids that they can make a difference by volunteering," Segal said.

Coordinating security for the games has also been a mass undertaking. Segal said that a combination of police, private security and volunteers will help ensure safety.

She said that all would-be spectators must register at the Maccabi website, where they will be screened before receiving an admission credential.

Police will be present at the opening ceremonies at the Pavillion at Villanova University on Sunday, as well as at some activities, according to the Lower Merion Police Department, which is coordinating police security for the games.

"Every jurisdiction where there is a venue, that department has been contacted, along with the FBI," said Lt. Chris Polo of Lower Merion Police.

 Finding housing for the 1,000 visiting athletes has also been quite a challenge. They don't stay in hotels but rather with host families. Matching 390 volunteer families with the athletes requires great skill. Some kids have animal allergies while others need to stay at a Shabbat-observant or kosher household. Visiting boys generally don't stay with host families that have girls, and some kids that competed in years past requested to stay with friends.

"It's a huge jigsaw puzzle," Segal said last week, eating a quick slice of pizza before running off to deliver her final orientation speech to a group of host families -- telling them what to expect from their visiting teens and what responsibilities they have.

One of those hosts, Sheila Shalev, is getting ready to welcome eight athletes into her Bryn Mawr home for the week -- three from Orlando, two from Great Britain and three from New York state.

With four children of her own -- ranging from 6 to 16 -- her house will surely be buzzing.

"It'll be a little crowded but it'll be well worth it," said Shalev.

The Shalevs are no strangers to hosting out-of-towners -- they hosted five Mexican boys during the 2001 games. With so many mouths to feed this year, Shalev said, she's going to make sure to stock up on fruits, vegetables, snacks and other items.

"It's important for them to feel comfortable," said Shalev. "They all have an individual bed to sleep in, so they can go enjoy the games and not worry. They know they'll have a safe and secure place to stay."

Another host parent, Jackie Needleman, said taking in a few athletes for the week in her Wynnewood home is the least she can do after her son stayed with a host family while playing in the Detroit games in 2008.

"We feel proud and privileged -- and obligated -- to host this year," said Needleman, who will be hosting two boys from Washington, D.C. and three from Great Britain. "Another family was wonderful enough to take in my child, so I wanted to take in kids while they're here."

Host families will have Sunday and Wednesday evening to spend some quality time with their visitors. Needleman, who has three sons of her own, said that if her guests are up to it, she'll take them downtown to see some historic sites, like the Liberty Bell.

Meanwhile, the athletes are doing some ramping up of their own. Baseball player Connor Donovan, 15, has been prepping for the games by putting in long hours of practice with his 18-year-old brother, Ryan. Almost every day, the two boys grab a bucket of baseballs and take turns hitting at a local field in Yardley.

"We throw, he hits me fly balls," said Connor. "It's really helping me get ready for the games."

To register for spectator credentials and find other information about the games, go to the Maccabi website: www.phillymaccabi.com.

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