The Summer Olympics will not return until 2020, but local teens can seize a bit of athletic glory themselves this summer at the JCC Maccabi Games.
Since 1982, the JCC Maccabi Games have gathered Jewish teen athletes annually, in cities across the U.S., for competition -- and camaraderie -- through sports. The 2019 JCC Maccabi Games will run from late July to early August.
"I will never forget being called up to the podium, and seeing my teammates and the Chicago delegation cheering me on," recalled Valerie Budra, a 16-year-old swimmer attending Rochelle Zell Jewish High School, about medaling at one of the JCC Maccabi games.
Rolling Meadows High School basketball player Chloe Newland has her own thrilling memories: "We won Gold in last year's Games, when one player came in, in the clutch, with game-winning free throws."
One of the host cities, Atlanta, will host more than 1,600 athletes, ages 12 to 16, who will participate in 13 sports. These events include Olympic-style opening and closing ceremonies and a community service day. This year, JCC Chicago is sending 22 players to Atlanta to compete in soccer, baseball, bowling, and track and field.
An even larger contingent of nearly 70 Chicago-area students is being sent to the Maccabi Games in Detroit to compete in hockey, soccer, swimming, baseball, and basketball. This year, there is an accompanying ArtsFest in that city, and a Chicago student will perform in its musical. Other young artists will paint, cook, and play in a rock band.
"The most exciting parts of the Maccabi games for me," said Jodi Marver, the women's basketball coach, "is the opportunity to coach at a high level, and interact and meet other Jewish coaches and athletes."
As to her goals, she said, "My expectations are very high for this year's Maccabi team. I hope to see a well-balanced combination of trying to win the gold medal, while making sure that the girls enjoy themselves. Ultimately, as long as the girls have fun, that is what makes me happy."
For Ben Rothmann, a soccer player who attends Barrington High School, "success at the Maccabi games isn't about winning. It's about the connections you make when you meet someone new."
Burda also enjoyed "making many new friends, competing as hard as I can in my sport while having fun, and representing the Chicago delegation at the highest level. When I was walking out at the opening ceremony representing the city of Chicago, I was incredibly excited, proud, and honored to be there," she said. "My adrenaline was sky-high!"
For more details on the upcoming JCC Maccabi Games, visit jccmaccabigames.org.