Next week’s JCC Maccabi Games no doubt will have a triple play — in basketball. The Buxbaum triplets, a familiar sight for seven years on intramural teams at the Jewish Community Center of Staten Island, are members of the center’s basketball team in the international event hosted by the JCC Aug. 20-24.
One of five Maccabi Games conducted this summer in cities across the United States, the Staten Island competition, the first-ever in New York City, is affiliated with the worldwide Maccabiah sports movement.
Some 1,100 boys and girls aged 13-16 will participate in the Games. Visiting athletes will be hosted by more than 400 families in the borough’s Jewish community, including the Buxbaums. Alan and Ellen Buxbaum will house five teens.
Alan, a wholesale meat distributor and longtime basketball coach at the JCC, also is on the Maccabi executive committee. And the couple’s oldest son, Scott, 17, will serve as a volunteer.
The triplets — Craig, Eric and Michael, 14 — will carry the torch in the opening ceremony Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. Sportscaster Warner Wolf will host the event. Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani are expected to attend.
The Buxbaums are the only known set of triplets from the New York area entered in the Games.
“I thought it would be a very good experience,” says Eric.
Adds Michael: “It seems very exciting to play against kids from around the world.”
The brothers, ninth-graders at Tottenville High School, have been training this summer as campers at upstate Camp Monroe. Camp director Stanley Felsinger is a former basketball star at Columbia University.
More than 5,500 young athletes from the U.S., Canada, Mexico, England, Israel, Australia and Venezuela are participating this summer in the JCC Maccabi Games. The other host cities are Tucson, Ariz; Boca Raton, Fla.; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Richmond, Va.
With the theme “B’Tzelem Elohim” (In the Image of God), each Maccabi is running a Day of Caring and Sharing, volunteer work in the local community.
The Staten Island competitors will spend Thursday morning playing an array of games with 300 developmentally and physically handicapped youth at the College of Staten Island, former site of the Willowbrook State School. The games and clinics will be preceded by sensitivity orientation sessions.
“To the best of my knowledge, no other national sporting event of this magnitude takes time out of the competition to do community service,” says Lenny Silberman, JCC Maccabi Games continental director. “It gives our kids a chance to give back to the community.”
The Maccabi Games are part of an effort to strengthen Jewish identity through sports, in competitions outside of Israel, outside of the quadrennial Maccabiah Games. All communal meals are glatt kosher, and the opening ceremony at each event this summer includes a memorial to the 11 Israeli Olympians murdered at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.The first Maccabi Games in this country was held 18 years ago in Memphis. The number of participants has doubled in the last five years, with a significant increase in female athletes.
Events at the Olympic-style games include basketball, track and field, baseball, swimming, soccer, tennis, in-line hockey, table tennis, volleyball, bowling, softball, racquetball, chess, golf, dance and gymnastics.
Most of the local events will take place at the College of Staten Island on Victory Boulevard, with soccer games at Miller Field on New Dorp Lane and in-line hockey at SportsFest on Mill Road.
Games are free and open to the public; call (718) 981-1500.
The Maccabi events are conducted according to the “Rachmanus Rule” of fair play – no embarrassing a weaker opponent: no trashing, no taunting, no trouncing.
“Having fun, keeping Jewish kids connected to their JCCs, along with developing a better society, are some of the goals behind the JCC Maccabi Games,” says Stephen Reiner, continental chairman. “The teenage years are fragile. In order for teens to overcome obstacles and succeed in life, they must have memorable, exciting activities that help them form a solid foundation.”
The Maccabi competition, says Lenny Krayzelburg, a leading Olympic swimming prospect and past Maccabi Games gold medal winner, “gives youngsters a chance to meet and compete with athletes from all over the world and to make friendships that will last the rest of your life. There’s also a major focus on fair play — respect for each other.”
The Games have the endorsement of other prominent athletes — Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug was involved in this summer’s events in Tucson, and former Knicks star Walt Frazier will take part in the opening ceremony and the Day of Caring and Sharing clinics.
Thursday’s closing ceremony will be at the Statue of Liberty.
The Games’ cost of $800,000 was raised from local organizations, businesses and individuals, says Lewis Stolzenberg, JCC executive director.
“The general community supports [the Games], as well as the Jewish community,” Stolzenberg says. “It’s good to see teens doing something constructive.”
Drew Sanders, JCC assistant executive director, is director of the games, and Dr. Mark Sherman is lay chairman.
The competition will bring 3,000 to 4,000 parents of Maccabi athletes to Staten Island, Stolzenberg says. “It’s good for business. It’s good for Staten Island pride.”
Nationally, the Maccabi Games are sponsored by the JCC Association of North America, Maccabi World Union, Maccabi USA/Sports for Israel and Maccabi Canada. Coca-Cola is continental corporate sponsor.
For Alan Buxbaum, the excitement began three years ago, when the Staten Island JCC first considered hosting the games. “I already knew my kids would play in it,” he says.Buxbaum plans to watch as many events as possible. “I’m taking the whole week off from work.”