Jeremy Silverman's strength on the field is only matched by his strength of character. A shot put and discus thrower for UCLA, the 21-year-old student athlete has a kind, grounded quality.
Silverman grew up in Annville, Penn., a town with one stoplight and a gas station. As a member of the only Jewish family at a very small high school, Silverman bore witness to some anti-Semitic attitudes. Still, he celebrated the Jewish holidays.
"Passover and Chanukah were my favorites because they seemed to bring the family together," Silverman said.
Silverman is extremely close to his father, Robert, who flies cross-country to watch his son compete in eight to 10 meets a year.
"He's amazing, he's so supportive," said Silverman, who notes that track parents who live in California don't attend as many events. "I hope someday to be as good of a father as he is to me."
Silverman began throwing at age 8.
"It was a family thing," Silverman said. "My older brother and sister were doing it, so I decided to try it. It was just for fun, but I ended up being pretty good."
It may have started as a just another fun activity, but throwing came to play an important role in Silverman's adolescence.
"It sounds cheesy, but track and field changed my life," said Silverman, who weighed 320 pounds after his freshman year of high school. "You know how high school kids can be; there was a lot of social pressure on me to lose the weight."
Motivated by his sport, he spent three months on the Atkins diet and dropped 65 pounds. When his weight crept up to 280 his junior year, Silverman lost another 50 pounds with a low-calorie diet and a high-cardio workout.
"Throwing was my inspiration. I lost 100 pounds between my freshman and senior years, and people looked at me differently," said Silverman, who is now 6-foot-3, 257 pounds. "I not only looked better, but I saw positive results on the field."
In his senior year, Silverman broke the Pennsylvania high school shot put record, became the state shot put and discus champion, and was ranked fourth in the nation in his sport.
Silverman dreamed of attending UCLA. "It was the palace of throwing and the coach, Art Venegas, was the throwing guru," he said.
But after a mediocre season his junior year of high school, Silverman signed a letter of intent with Virginia Tech. Before Silverman's college orientation, the Virginia Tech coach announced he was leaving, which gave Silverman a window to be re-recruited. Based on his stellar senior year performance, UCLA came knocking.
"As soon as I met Art and saw the school, I knew I wanted to be here. It was fate," said Silverman, who placed 13th overall at the 2003 NCAA Championships.
A psychobiology major, Silverman works hard to juggle his academic and athletic ambitions. Track and field is a year-round sport. Silverman competes in indoor and outdoor meets and practices from 2-6 p.m., five days a week. His rigorous practice schedule often conflicts with required major classes and professors' office hours. He pre-enrolls to ensure a spot in morning classes and takes required three-hour lab courses over the summer.
"It's hard to stay on top of the curve, especially during finals week," said Silverman, who wants to follow in his father's footsteps and attend dental school.
"I'm working toward throwing after college," said Silverman, who called the Olympics his pie in the sky, "but there has to be something after sports, something to take me through the rest of my life."
Silverman can be seen competing April 8-10 at UCLA's second annual Rafer Johnson/Jackie Joyner-Kersee Invitational. For ticket information, go to www.uclabruins.com .
Synagogue Softball Updates
Los Angeles' Synagogue Softball League is in full swing. With three divisions and 29 teams, the fast-pitch league draws players from congregations throughout the Southland. After seven weeks of play, Beth Am leads Division C, Adat Ari El and Ahavat Shalom are tied for first in Division B and Valley Beth Shalom tops Division A. Here's some of the highlights:
Ahavat Shalom vs. Temple Aliyah II: Shalom scored 13 runs in the first three innings en route to an 18-6 win over Aliyah II.
Sinai Temple vs. Kol Tikvah Black: After scoring seven runs in the first, Black added 11 in the fourth en route to an 18-5 win. Black got HR's from Eric Popish, Ken Fuchs, Devin Sirkus, Eric Lomis and Brian Findling. Pitcher Paul Thaler stalled Sinai at six hits while striking out four.
Adat Ari El II vs. B'nai Emet: AAE had what they thought was a comfortable 8-5 lead going into seventh inning. But then Simi Valley collected seven straight hits to take a 9-8 victory.
VBS II vs. Ramat Zion: RZ took a 17-4 lead after two. But in the final four innings, VBS II out scored RZ 17-0 on their way to a 25-17 victory.
Leo Baeck II vs. Adat Ari El: After AAE's Lee Goldring hit a three-run HR in the fifth, LB scored four in the sixth to tie the game. But AAE got an RBI double from Bob Oberstein to bring in his son, Mitch, for the winning run. AAE 7, LB II 6. n