During the girls' softball playoffs of the 1992 Maccabi Games in Baltimore, the coach of the Seattle team stopped by the hotel room of L.A. coach Sandy Silverman to talk. Their teams were scheduled to face off the next day.
"I think we've got a problem," the Seattle coach told Silverman."Oh, yeah? What's the problem?" asked Silverman, an easygoing sports fan who started the team in 1988.
"Well, my girls saw your girls play today," the other coach said, "and they're refusing to take the field."
That's how it's been: one win after another. And this summer, barring some unforeseen act of nature, the L.A. girls' softball team expects to take home the gold once again when the Maccabi Games meet in Richmond, Va., Aug. 13-18.
In 1982, the Jewish Community Centers (JCC) held their first Maccabi Games in Memphis, Tenn., to bring Jewish youth, mostly Midwesterners at that time, together to compete in a variety of sports. Three hundred athletes ages 13 to 16 attended the games that summer to play basketball, track and field, and soccer.
In 1984, L.A. became involved in the games when a delegation of 75 youths - organized by the L.A. Maccabbi Athletic Club, an Israeli American organization - attended the Detroit games. But it wasn't until 1986, when the playoffs were held in Toronto under the auspices of Maccabi Canada, that the games really took off. Since then, the games have grown at a tremendous rate, according to Paul Soifer, the sports advisory chair of the continental governing body of the Maccabi Games in L.A. One city is no longer big enough to hold all the Maccabi athletes, he points out - this summer alone, five regional sites have been chosen to host the games.
With the sweet faces of teenagers and the muscles of Venus Williams, the girls on the L.A. Maccabi team take their softball seriously. For some of them, Silverman says, playing softball is all they do.
"We have a tremendous advantage: We can play this game the whole year round," Silverman explains. "We usually dominate. We even try to pull down the scores ... but we always try to get everyone in the game. We don't want to lord it over anybody, but the girls are here to play ball too."
Dental assistant Jackie Lucero, 26, this year's softball coach, who played for Silverman in 1988 and 1990, is here to make sure the girls play ball too.
"I practice the girls to their capability, to the capability of the sport," Lucero, who could easily pass for one of her players, says confidently. "We do 15 minutes of warm up, running, stretching, agility, 5-10 minutes of warming up the arms. Then we practice different plays - live plays, live batting situations. When we go to Richmond, we're going to look like a really good team."
One of the reasons that this year's team is going to look dynamite is Shelly Maddock, 14, a freshman at Calabasas High School. Maddock pitches a mean softball that has been clocked at 61 m.p.h. Just to watch her delivery is staggering. She winds up and in a motion that is barely discernible, pulls her left arm down and slaps it against her thigh as her right arm is propelled forward, delivering a bullet over the plate. "The harder the left hand pulls, the faster the right hand comes down," she explains.
Allie Rattet, 15, a center and right fielder, is another reason. Rattet has all the qualities of a good outfielder - super quick, able to read the ball off the bat and familiar with all the plays. Watching Rattet swoop down on a ball and throw it home faster than the speed of light brings to mind the legendary outfielder, James "Cool Papa" Bell. Hall of Famer Paul Waner said of Bell: "That man was so fast he could turn out the lights and be in bed before the room was dark."
Then there's Kim Weinstein, catcher, who is only 13. Her older sister played ball for the Maccabis, and now Weinstein is following in her footsteps. She is amazingly poised at the plate, catching what ever comes her way. Weinstein may still be in middle school, but she catches like a seasoned pro.
And more reasons: Christina, Amy, Rachel, Corey, Jenna, Natalie, Rebecca and Nicole. They are all in top form and professionally assured; Lucero has no doubt that any one of them could hold her own in an Olympic softball tryout.
For Lucero and her team, softball is nothing less than life affirming. "In softball, you learn basic instructions in life," Lucero says. "That's where I learned about friendships and relationships and commitments, and everything else. When you have that, you have everything wrapped up in one big ball: You're an All Star player."
The Maccabi games are organized under the umbrella of the JCCs of North America, in partnership with Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel; Maccabi Canada; and Maccabi World Union. Dr. Jerry Bobrow serves as chair of the L.A. organizing committee. For information about the games and tryouts, call Jeff Kaplan at (818) 464 3269, or log ontowww.jccmaccabi.org
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