A sport that has taken Israel by storm has found its way to Atlanta.
Catchball, a close relative of volleyball in which players catch the ball and throw it back over the net instead of bumping, setting and spiking, has become the most popular participatory sport among women in Israel with an estimated 15,000 players. Now a team from Atlanta is headed to Israel to compete in the sport during the 20th Maccabiah Games in July.
Israeli transplant Rachel Gurvitch, who lives in Dunwoody, helped start a catchball team in Atlanta six months ago. Playing at the Marcus Jewish Community Center once a week, the group quickly grew to more than 36 women, most of them over age 30.
“We are not as athletic as we used to be when we were in our 20s,” Gurvitch said. “But this sport suddenly brought us all together. We are leaving our houses, husbands and kids and getting out there and playing.”
“The idea is that it’s a fun, social sport for every woman to participate,” team captain Tal Levy said.
In late March, Gurvitch and Levy got their best squad together and traveled to Boston to compete in the first East Coast Catchball Tournament. Although the team had played together for only a few short months, it finished in second place.
That result landed the women a spot in the international catchball competition taking place in Israel during the Maccabiah Games from July 4 to 18. Catchball is categorized as a demonstration sport.
The catchball tournament, scheduled for July 6, 7 and 8, will feature three teams from the United States — Boston, Palo Alto, Calif., and Atlanta — as well as 36 Israeli teams. Teams from London and Berlin also are expected to compete.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us to compete in Israel,” Levy said. “Every city in Israel had tryouts for their teams, and out of all the girls that play catchball in each place, they chose only the best 14 players. We are traveling to Israel with only nine girls.”
Levy said the team is also in dire need of a coach. Because catchball isn’t well known in Atlanta, they have searched for a coach with volleyball experience. They also struggle with finding enough practice time because of the high demand for the JCC basketball courts, where they play.
When the Atlanta squad competes in Israel this July, expect some sibling rivalry. Shiri Tzuk, one of the members of Peach Perfect, has a sister playing for the Herzliya team. When the tournament draw was made in June, the schedule set Atlanta against Herzliya in one of the first games.
“It’s Atlanta and Herzliya in the same house,” Tzuk said. “My mom supports Team Atlanta, and my dad supports Herzliya. It’s going to be a derby.”
Atlanta’s catchball league, Atlanta Net, starts a new season in August, playing on Monday and Wednesday nights at the Marcus JCC. Gurvitch said all women 21 and up are welcome to play.
“The door is open for any woman,” she said. “Anyone can feel welcome and is invited to come play with us. We have no reason to limit. Israelis are just an easy crowd because they have heard of the sport.”