The well-worn cliche “it takes a village” describes what will be required when Atlanta hosts the 2019 JCC Maccabi Games.
Representing Jewish community centers from throughout the country, 1,200 Jewish boys and girls, ages 12 to 16, will join 400 of their Atlanta peers in the annual sports festival from July 28 to Aug. 2 next summer. Along with the athletes will come hundreds of coaches and parents.
A virtual village of some 500 host families will be needed to house the visiting athletes, many of whom will stay in the homes of Team Atlanta members. The adults will take area hotel rooms.
Another 1,500 volunteers will be needed, in a variety of capacities, to staff the five-day event.
Atlanta last hosted the games in 2001. The Marcus JCC was selected to host in 2007 but withdrew because of financial problems.
Competitions will be held in flag football, basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball, ultimate Frisbee, swimming, dance, golf, tennis, bowling, table tennis, and track and field.
The primary venues at the Marcus JCC and the Marist School will be supplemented by other sites hosting a single sport.
The games usually utilize a single hub, at the local JCC, but the number of competitions and Atlanta’s notorious traffic made two hubs desirable, according to Stacie Francombe, director of the Atlanta games.
“Most of the events take place in the middle of the day. They generally end by 4.30 or 5 o’clock in the evening,” Jared Powers, chief executive officer of the MJCC. He added that avoiding the worst traffic is “why we’re being very intentional with the selection of the venues.”
Transporting athletes, coaches and official members of visiting delegations will involve a fleet of about 50 buses.
Event organizers aren’t releasing the list of venues hosting competitions, other than the MJCC and Marist, because of security concerns. It’s a key issue with large crowds of Jews congregated at competition hubs and venues.
“This is always the balancing act with the Maccabi games,” Powers said. “The security issue, it’s the number one priority.” The games staff and MJCC will coordinate with police and multiple levels of law enforcement, who will be present at competition sites.
Weather is another of the myriad issues that must be taken into account. The average Atlanta high temperature in in late July to early August is 88 degrees and the chance of rain averages about 40 percent.
Keeping the competitors hydrated will be a priority. Coca-Cola, which is a national sponsor of the JCC Maccabi Games, will provide its water and sports drink products at the venues.
Medical staff will be stationed at the MJCC and Marist hubs and at other venues as warranted, Powers said.
The athletes will be fed at the MJCC and Marist hubs, and can also visit “hang time” rooms staffed by Israelis.
Beyond the wins and losses, the JCC Maccabi Games are designed to promote community involvement and pride in being Jewish. Emphasis is placed on two Jewish values: Rachmanus (compassion) and Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), which also are central to a planned community service day for the teams.
Since the inaugural JCC Maccabi Games in Memphis 1982, more than 120,000 Jewish teens from the United States, Israel and other nations have taken part.
Organizers will know early next year which JCCs nationally are sending teams to Atlanta, as well as whether other nations will participate. JCC Maccabi Games in recent years have included teams from Israel, Mexico and Panama. Powers said that “thanks to a generous grant from the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta,” a delegation from Atlanta’s Israeli sister city of Yokneam is coming.
There are two JCC Maccabi summer events annually. Detroit will host both a JCC Maccabi athletic competition and the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest Aug. 4 to 9, 2019. ArtsFest include acting/improv, culinary arts, dance, musical theater, rock band, social media squad, visual arts and vocal music.
The Atlanta games will begin and end with Olympic-style ceremonies, at locations not released. Still to be determined are what sports personalities will participate in the opening ceremony. When the games were in Memphis a few years ago, one opening ceremony speaker was Josh Pastner, then basketball coach at University of Memphis who is now at Georgia Tech.
Two evening social events are “are being developed with a goal of showcasing our great city,” Francombe said.
On August 26, from 3 to 6 p.m., the Marcus JCC will host “Ignite Maccabi,” a launch party for the 2019 event that is open to the public. It will include the lighting of an official JCC Maccabi Games torch. Team Atlanta members will be welcomed home from this summer’s games hosted by Orange County, Calif. The kickoff event will include video game trucks, food trucks, activities in the MJCC pool and music provided by a live DJ.
The JCC Maccabi Games are not affiliated with Maccabi USA, which sends teams of American Jewish athletes, youth and adults, to international competitions, including the quadrennial Maccabiah Games in Israel. “We consider Maccabi USA and Maccabi World Union important partners, but the JCC Maccabi Games is a program of JCC Association of North America,” said Marla Cohen, spokesperson for JCC Association of North America.
The games are an expensive undertaking, for which $1.5 million in donations (financial and in-kind) are being sought. The JCC will not profit from the event, Power said. Any funds raised beyond what is expended on the games will be put back into team engagement.
Host families can expect to provide breakfast and snacks, drive to and from the competition hubs and other games-related events and do laundry. Housing arrangements take into account such factors as whether a child keeps kosher and is religiously observant.
Volunteers will be needed to work at the MJCC and Marist as well as staff other venues, everything from working behind a desk to riding on buses.
“We really do need to touch all ages and demographics of the community for the volunteer effort,” Francome said.
Organizing this type of massive undertaking fits in with Francombe’s background as a veteran of the event planning industry. Before that, she worked in sports television at CNN and Turner Broadcasting.
Being games director “combines a lot of my passions and business skills with television and sports and event planning, and also I’ve got three teenagers, so working on an event that is supporting Jewish teenagers from around the world was exciting for me,” Francombe said.
“I’m not nervous,” Francombe said. “I have such a great support system. I’m almost fully staffed I’ve got a lot of really passionate and smart people surrounding me, and really, really supportive people.”
Powers echoed that sentiment. “I feel very good about our staff our lay leadership and the community support,” Powers said.
Anyone interested in volunteering is urged to visit www.atlmaccabi2019.org.