Here is a riddle: This summer I went to a sporting event that had 9,000 athletes from 77 countries competing in 50 sports. And it wasn’t the Olympics (that was last summer). It was the largest sporting event of the year. The USA sends more athletes and coaches than they do to the Olympics! What was it?
The Maccabiah Games! These games are held every four years (like the Olympics) and are a full Olympic-style event. There are opening and closing ceremonies, events all over the country, and athletes train for years for the games. There are two big differences between the Olympics and the Maccabiah Games. One is that all of the athletes are Jewish, and the other is that they are held in the same country every time, Israel.
The Maccabiah Games are unique in the world in that participating in the games is more important than winning them. The games were founded before the country of Israel was and its purpose is building Jewish identity through sport. Athletes come to Israel for an amazing sports experience and an even bigger cultural one. While the Olympics are about making money (for everyone involved) the Maccabiah Games are about the experience in Israel.
My family went because my Dad, former NBA player Danny Schayes, was coaching one of the teams. When he was young he played in the Open Basketball (same as the Dream Team in the Olympics) and won two Gold Medals, in 1977 and 1981. This year he coached the Masters Basketball for players 35 years old and over. We won the gold! It was awesome! Digger Phelps coached the team from Canada and Amar’e Stoudamire helped coach one of the teams too.
Last summer I went to the London Olympics with my mom (1988 Olympic Diver Wendy Lucero-Schayes), so I’ve gotten to go to both. The London Olympics was a bigger deal, but the Maccabiah Games was really cool too. I got to be a ball boy for the team and trade a lot of pins. We were in Israel for two weeks and did a lot of touring. The area is so old that we saw cities built on other cities with a third city under that one!
But in the end the players and games won out. The players all want to win and go all out. We beat Russia in the gold medal game and the players all felt like they won the Olympics! They trained for a year and did a great job. I am really proud of my dad. He let me wear his gold medal and it felt AWESOME! Many of the other players brought their kids and we all had a great time.
In 2017 I will be old enough to play in the Junior Division. I can’t wait!