Maccabi Games welcomes young athletes with diverse needs

Atlanta hosted an exciting Olympic-style competition this summer that featured 1,600 athletes. The Maccabi Games are held in a different city each year and bring Jewish athletes ranging from 12 to 16 years old from around the globe to compete in 14 different sports, perform community service, and promote human values. This year, the games were hosted by the Marcus Jewish Community Center Atlanta (MJCCA) from July 28 – August 2. Maccabi Team Atlanta’s nearly 600 athletes welcomed 1,000 visiting athletes from 35 delegations from across the U.S., Panama, Israel, and Mexico.

Atlanta is the first inclusive Maccabi host city that reached out to athletes with special needs to compete in the games. Several months ago, Lori and Kevin Rubin received a call from Atlanta JCC Maccabi Games Inclusion co-chair Tracey Grant, inviting their son, Beck, to participate. Beck is 12 and has been diagnosed with mood dysregulation disorder and significant ADHD, making it difficult to self-soothe or calm himself. He attends The HOPE School in Roswell.

Samantha Kurgan, Atlanta JCC Maccabi Games Inclusion co-chair congratulates Beck Rubin at the Maccabi Games in August.

“Beck doesn’t play sports because they’re too overstimulating,” said Lori. “But we were told that for Maccabi, each child in its inclusion program would have a buddy during the day and a buddy at the event at night for support throughout the week’s programming. That way, each child could have one-on-one care but still participate in the team experience.”

“One particular point of pride for our inclusion team,” explained Tracey, “is that in addition to the athletes that received an individualized level of support, there was a social emotional wellness team in place that cared for dozens of athletes, helping them to navigate moments of anxiety and stress throughout the week.”

“The experience truly exceeded our expectations,” said Lori, “The inclusion team was so attentive and aware, making sure Beck wasn’t overstimulated or frustrated. He competed in the 14 and under (U14) track & field and ended up winning two medals—one in shot put and another for sportsmanship. “He was so proud of winning these medals,” beamed Lori. “He wore them to his first day of school; he would not take them off.”

“The Atlanta community should be incredibly proud of hosting these inclusive Maccabi Games,” said Samantha Kurgan, Atlanta JCC Maccabi Games Inclusion co-chair. “With the help of The Coca-Cola Company’s sponsorship, the Atlanta MJCCA/Delegation was able to support the inclusive athletes with our buddy program. With the support of Beyond the Playroom, specialists were hired to help build, train, and support our inclusion team. Working together, our buddies, specialists, coaches, and the leadership team ensured success for all the athletes involved in the 2019 Atlanta Games.”

Learn more about the games. 