St. Paul Jewish Community Center hoopsters persevere at JCC Maccabi Games in Houston


Among the 1,400 Jewish teens gathered last week in Houston, Texas, for the 2012 JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest, the girls basketball squad from the St. Paul JCC distinguished itself for tenacity in the face of hardship.

The team comprised of nine girls lost two members — Marley Applebaum (dislocated shoulder) and Samara Schumacher (illness) — before leaving St. Paul for competition at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston.

On the first day of the tourney, the St. Paul JCC suffered another injury. Samantha Agranoff twisted her ankle, but stayed in the game, with a doctor’s permission. Despite being banged up, the local hoopsters came out on top, 37-23, against the Houston girls.

“We met every volunteer Maccabi doctor in Houston, regardless of specialty,” coach Ken Agranoff commented, “and by the end of the Maccabi even the Houston residents were rooting for Team St Paul.”

Game two, on Monday, Aug. 6, pitted the St. Paul girls against the California All-Stars. Although St. Paul saw their shooting percentage drop, the team got the win, 33-25. Samantha led the offense with 14 points. Unfortunately, Hannah Johnson, who had led her team with 12 points in the first game, suffered a serious ACL tear in the second half, and was lost for the rest of the play in Houston.

The St. Paul JCC girls basketball team at the Houston Maccabi Games: (standing, l to r) Samantha Agranoff, Mikaela Gerdes, Marley Applebaum, St. Paul assistant delegation leader and assistant coach Tracey Agranoff, head coach Ken Agranoff;
(middle row) Samara Schumacher, Rachel Burbul, Rachel Greenberg; and (front row) Maddie Richter, Hannah Johnson, Minnie Arnold (not pictured, Sam Eberhart, delegation leader). (Photo: Courtesy of Houston JCC)

Team St. Paul took on the girls from Denver the following day. Coach Agranoff, in his recap of the tournament, mentioned that the crowd was “stunned” by the St. Paul JCC’s team play. He added, “Denver was very gracious in not pressing and in providing us with extra time-outs.” Maddie Richter stepped up to lead St. Paul with 16 points; but Denver prevailed, 33-28.

Going into the third game, Team St. Paul learned that it would lose the services of Samantha, as well as Hannah. However, the depleted squad stunned their opponents from Baltimore, as they “played smarter and smarter quarter by quarter,” according to the coach. Maddie contributed 16 points, and Minnie Arnold scored 10 more; Rachel Greenberg swept the boards with 10 rebounds, and Mikaela Gerdes pulled down another five. St. Paul triumphed, 33-22.

Team St. Paul appealed for another player to replenish their squad, and a few players from other teams volunteered to play; but the Maccabi leadership told the St. Paul contingent that substituting players was not permitted under the rules.

St. Paul faced Houston in medal round play, on Aug. 8. Samara Schumacher, with her parents’ permission, was used in a “static standing role on the side of the court, so we could substitute” and rest players, the coach explained.

“The entire game was a modern fairy tale of David slaying Goliath,” Ken Agranoff recounted. “The crowd was electric. Houston tried everything imaginable, and we stood our ground and emerged victorious” — St. Paul 38, Houston 36.

The proverbial Cinderella team in the JCC Maccabi Games’ 16 and under girls basketball competition, the St. Paul crew emerged as the “crowd favorite, and the gym was filled with spectators,” according to Coach Agranoff, for the gold medal game on Thursday, Aug. 9. The remaining St. Paul players pushed the game to overtime.

“Each of our players had the chance to be a hero and make the big basket; but the silver medal was our magnificent accomplishment,” noted the coach, of his team being edged 16-14 by the California/Winnipeg team.

In the final seconds of the overtime period, when California had the ball, Agranoff brought in his injured players: Samantha, in a walking boot; Marley, with her arm in a sling; Hannah on crutches.

Each player made an on-court appearance in the gold medal game. “It was a fitting finish for the team that would not give up,” concluded Agranoff. “We are the champions in every sense of the word.”

In an e-mail sent to all of the JCC executive directors in North America last week, Joel Dinkin, director of the Houston JCC, commended Coach Agranoff’s decision to put in his injured players: “By entering the game, the girls’ participation in the game is part of the official scorebook, and they will remember that they played in a gold medal game at the JCC Maccabi Games in Houston. This meaningful gesture by the St. Paul coach is what the JCC Maccabi games are all about: the experience for the teens. The mantra of our co-chairs Andy [Bursten] and Mindy [Levinson] was ‘it is all about the kids,’ and, sure enough, that is what happened in the last five seconds in one of the last events of a great week.”