The San Francisco delegation saved its best performance for last.
After failing to win a gold medal in any team event in the first three and half days of the 2009 JCC Maccabi Games in San Francisco, the host city’s 16-and-under boys and girls basketball teams delivered gold on the final afternoon of competition.
In what officials said turned out to be a well-organized week, marked by sweeping camaraderie and crisp competition, the two victories capped off a successful Maccabi Games for San Francisco, the first in the city’s history.
“The spirit was absolutely wonderful,” Jackie Lewis, the games director, said. “Everybody had a good time.”
After three years of planning, the fact that the Games are over is still hard for Lewis to believe, but the compliments are still flowing in. People’s favorite things? The food and the Aug. 6 closing ceremonies, Lewis said.
Visiting delegation heads claimed the food provided to athletes and coaches at the University of San Francisco — all of it kosher — was the best ever at a Maccabi Games, an annual competition for teen athletes since 1982, and now taking place in several U.S. cities each summer.
And the closing party and ceremonies — featuring dancing, a free Build-A-Bear booth, T-shirts and food — would have had a hard time not being a grand event at AT&T Park.
Indeed, what made the 2009 Games unique was the location. San Francisco left an indelible mark on Maccabi.
For the first time, the Games were anchored in an urban area, with the bulk of the action happening at USF.
Other venues included Golden Gate Park (for baseball, tennis and soccer), Serra Bowl in Daly City (for bowling) and two S.F. prep schools, Saint Ignatius and Sacred Heart Cathedral (for basketball and track and field). The golf competition was held on three courses: Lake Merced Golf Course and Presidio Golf Club in the S.F. area and the Meadows Club in Fairfax.
The Games also benefited from San Francisco’s temperate climate, which made scheduling easier (no risk of any rainouts). Moreover, the chilly weather stayed away, which isn’t always the case during a San Francisco summer, as the weather was sunny and warm all week.
Also in true Bay Area fashion, the Games went green. “We did not give out a single plastic water bottle,” Lewis boasted. “Ninety-four percent of our waste went back into recycling or compost.”
With more than 1,500 visiting athletes, from 23 states and five countries, needing to be shuttled throughout the city, transportation was almost destined to be an issue. Yet all the athletes made it to their events on time and transportation complaints were nonexistent, organizers said.
Six days after the Games ended, a health concern surfaced. In an Aug. 12 memo, the national office of the JCC Maccabi Games stated, “We have heard from a few delegations that were in attendance in San Francisco that a very small number of athletes have tested positive for Influenza A (H1N1) after returning home.”
Contacted by phone, Aaron Selkow, a Games’ vice president, said he was unable to say how many athletes came down with the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, and he stressed that no athletes reported any symptoms during the Games in San Francisco.
As only the fourth California host of the Games — joining Los Angeles in 1995, Orange County in 2007 and San Diego in 2008 — it wouldn’t have seemed right for the San Francisco delegation to walk away without a team gold.
The 16-and-under team did it first with a 48-36 victory over No. 1 seeded Dallas at USF’s Memorial Gym on Aug. 6. With a loss to Dallas in pool play fresh in the players’ minds, San Francisco jumped out to a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Dallas kept the game close in the second quarter, but San Francisco closed the third quarter on an 8-0 run to take command, 35-22. Consecutive 3-pointers by Hannah Caine and Nikki Greenberg started the run, and a tough layup by Rachel Baskin finished it as the third-quarter buzzer sounded, sending the crowd into a frenzy of “Go S.F.” chants.
“We had a great week,” coach Adam Feldman said. “Our gold-medal game was the best game of the week. We played hard, played defense. It sounds simple, but it was so important.”
San Francisco won the gold medal in 16-and-under basketball in 2007 in Houston and 2008 in San Diego, but this year’s team was a wild card, as only two out of the nine girls on the team had Maccabi experience. The two, Baskin and Caine, led San Francisco in the final with 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Later, in the final event of the Games, San Francisco’s 16-and-under boys team also faced Dallas for the gold.
Led by Noah Springwater’s 17 points, San Francisco dominated the game, leading by at least 10 throughout the second half and rolling to a 51-36 victory. Armand Gray added 15 points and Matt Schneider and Micah Sokolsky each scored six.
“Playing determined defense was the key — limiting their open shots,” Springwater said. “Dallas was by far the best team we played, they deserved to be here.”
For Springwater, the victory wrapped up a whirlwind month of July. The star at San Francisco’s University High star was a member of the U.S. junior team that took home gold in the Maccabiah Games in Israel.
While the Maccabiah Games are a bigger stage, the Maccabi Games had extra significance for Springwater.
“There’s always stress being the home team,” he said. “We were fortunate enough to hold off some good teams.”
Local athletes clean up on their home turf
Athletes from the JCC of San Francisco made the most of having the Maccabi Games in their own backyard.
In the track and field competition, Mikela Waldman, Toby Harris, Mia O’Reilly and Cienna Gray picked up a gold medal in the girls 14-and-under 4×100-meter relay. Harris, O’Reilly and Camilla Bykhovsky also won gold in the girls 14-and-under mixed sprint medley.
San Francisco swept the girls 14-and-under long jump with Harris, Bykhovsky and Gray taking home gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively.
On the boys’ side, it was silvers all around for shotputter Sam Koch, relay runners Robbie Blatman and Zack Migdail, and sprinters Noah Melrod, Ryan Blatman, Daniel Blatman and Paul Levinson-Muth.
In the auditorium, Sivan Albo, Koral Ben Ezra, Danit Dvora Geffen and Ohad Kalmy — members of team Israel competing as part of the San Francisco squad — got the gold for their jazz routine.
In the golf competition, San Francisco’s Sam Greinetz won gold by finishing with a two-round total of 160 (79 the first day and 81 the second), and he also won the closest-to-the-pin contest the first day and the long-drive contest the second day. Teammate Buddy Wartell came away with a silver.
On the tennis court, Sandy Schenker and Michael Fisher both captured bronze. The S.F. delegation netted another bronze medal in table tennis competition.
San Francisco athletes who made a splash in swimming included Noa Berzon, who won gold in the girls 14-and-under 50 backstroke and silver in the girls 14-and-under breaststroke; Jacob Reynolds and Jacob Prince who earned silver in the boys 14-and-under 200 butterfly and 50 backstroke, respectively; and Samantha Dame, Brittany Salazar and Selina Senel, who swept the girls 16-and-under 200 individual medley.
Sara Williams, who represented the Addison-Penzak JCC in Silicon Valley, pocketed five gold medals. She won three in girls 14-and-under races (200, 4×400 relay and 4×100 mixed relay) and a pair of 16-and-under events (girls sprint medley and coed 4×100 mixed relay).
Tracie Ehrlich and Lauren Meier nabbed a silver medal for the Peninsula JCC with their Israeli dance.
And representing the Osher Marin JCC, swimmer Sophia Gross took home two bronze medals, while bowler Molly Harris turned in a gold-winning performance, edging out the competition by 519 points.
Though many athletes are mentioned in this article, they represent only a partial list of all local medal winners. For more results, visit www.jccmaccabisf.org.