Growing JCC basketball league a slam dunk for kids

The youth basketball league being run by the Contra Costa JCC might not bear much of a resemblance to the NBA — unless NBA in this case stands for Nachas Basketball Association.

Nachas means "joy" in Yiddish, and joy is as abundant as Air Jordans in the Jewish Youth Athletic League.

"Everyone is having such a good time out there, even the parents," said Phil Winslow, a former board member of the Jewish community center and the driving force behind the creation of the JYAL two years ago.

The JYAL is a short-term league, running for six weeks at the Tice Valley Community Gym, a 2-year-old facility built by the city of Walnut Creek on the grounds of the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center. The league concludes Sunday, Nov. 21.

About 45 players have been taking part for the past four Sunday afternoons, doing drills for the first hour and then playing games. The league is for third- through eighth-graders, although only the older kids get to play games. Most kids queried said they enjoy the games the most.

But 13-year-old Danielle Bealick of Fremont said she really likes the clinics, which are run by Clay Kallum, an assistant coach of the varsity girls team at Acalanes High School in Lafayette. The players get to work on dribbling, shooting, passing and defense.

"We go from station to station to work on our skills," said Bealick, a budding star who played in the JCC Maccabi Games in Houston last summer and helped the San Francisco team win a bronze medal in girls basketball.

Bealick is one of the best players in the JYAL, which has co-ed teams. A few weeks ago, she fired in 30 points mainly off fast breaks and layups.

And as for playing in a league with mostly boys, "It's not weird or anything," Bealick said. "I actually like it because I think it's better competition, and that's going to help make me a better player."

Though the league is somewhat small-scale, the players don't seem to be complaining.

"Primarily, and I know it's not just me but also the other parents who feel this way, we want the association of our kids with other Jewish kids," said Dennis Bealick, the father of Danielle and her brother Devon, who also participates.

One man who recently moved to Lafayette brought his kids to JYAL a few weeks ago "and was amazed that we had this going on," Bealick said. "He thought it was a wonderful place for Jewish kids, and that we have such a beautiful gym was striking to him."

The state-of-the-art facility came about in a deal between the CCJCC and the city. Walnut Creek built the facility and runs it, but since it's on land that the CCJCC owns, the center gets to use the facility, which includes three basketball courts, a classroom and an aerobics studio.

Of the seven JCCs in the Bay Area, only Contra Costa and San Francisco currently have basketball leagues.

Winslow, who has fond memories of playing in a synagogue and Jewish day-school league when he was a kid in the '50s, wants the JYAL to be a stepping stone to a broader Jewish basketball league in the Bay Area involving JCCs and synagogues.

At a JYAL session a few weeks ago, Winslow noticed a contingent of parents from Congregation Beth Chaim in Danville.

"I told them to gather their group together and form a synagogue team, and then issue a challenge to three other synagogues in the area and have some sort of holiday tournament, like on Purim," Winslow said. "Four teams playing on a Sunday — that would be my dream."

Winslow said friendships he formed with kids in his synagogue league 40 years ago still exist, and he wants to see that opportunity for today's Jewish youth, as well.

"The league lets them make new friends with other Jewish kids. It encourages affiliation and expands relationships with other Jewish kids and families — as well as teaching the kids basketball skills and important lessons, like how to work together."

Two kids working together are 12-year-old twins Stephanie and Jordan Smith. They're on the same team, which Stephanie said is OK by her, although Jordan wasn't so sure about being on his sister's team.

"It's sort of bad for me," said Jordan, whose main position is point guard. "I don't like to pass the ball very much, so sometimes I get annoyed by her. But all the other people on the team are calling for the ball, too."

Most of them are having a ball as well.

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.