Rise in Jewish Athletes in NFL, NBA and MLB
A Jewish Flavor In College Basketball
Jewish sports fans may have a hard time choosing a favorite team in one conference of college basketball when the 2012-13 NCAA season opens next week. Three of the head coaches in Conference-USA are Jewish.
Larry Brown, the well-traveled, championship-winning former coach of several professional and collegiate teams, is guiding the Mustangs of Southern Methodist University, located in Dallas. He joins, in Conference-USA, Ben Braun at Rice University in Houston, and John Pastner at the University of Memphis.
The phenomenon of three head coaches in a single athletic conference — most Conference-USA schools are in the Bible Belt South and Southwest — is the first-known time that this has happened in any collegiate sport. Even in basketball, the “City Game” dominated by Jewish athletes in its early days.
“It’s an aberration,” says David Kufeld, a onetime star on the Yeshiva University basketball team who has promoted sports in the Jewish community.
What’s remarkable, says Jeffrey Gurock, a professor of American Jewish history at YU and a former YU basketball player and coach, is that no one seems to pay attention to coaches’ ethnicity, besides a few sports devotees and some journalists. “The selection of these coaches is not identified as a Jewish story by those who hired them or cheer for their teams.”
“I never thought about” the fact that he is establishing an obscure Jewish first, Brown tells The Jewish Week in a telephone interview. “It’s a neat thing.”
Neither did Pastner, who received the Jewish Coaches Association’s Red Auerbach Coach of the Year Award last year.
“It reflects very positively on the acceptance of Jews, across the board,” Kufeld says.
Braun, arguably the least prominent of the trio — Brown has ranked in the top echelon of basketball coaches for several decades; Pastner’s team usually finishes high in the NCAA tournament every year — is a former head coach in the Maccabiah Games; his 1989 U.S. team finished second, to Israel. Brown is a former Maccabiah player.
Braun came to Rice, a small, century-old private school that places among the nation’s top universities, in 2008. The coach, who early in his career also served as an English teacher, always brings an international flavor to his teams, holding clinics in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, and recruiting players from abroad. This year’s Owls include players from Iran, Egypt and Lebanon. “Sports can be a bridge,” he says.
Many of his overseas recruits are Muslims; all are aware that he is a Jew. “It’s never been an issue,” the coach says.
Braun says he maintains a friendly rivalry with his Jewish head coaching peers; he’ll wish them a “Good Shabbos” at courtside if a game occurs then.
“I’m not crazy about playing against friends,” he says.
For Jewish fans, the prospect of Jewish-coached teams competing against each other is no problem, Larry Brown says — one of their favorite teams will always win.
Gymnast Felix Aronovich: Penn State’s Feel-Good Jewish Sports Story
October 18, 2012 Algemeiner.com
Among those who grabbed headlines related to the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal surrounding Penn State University’s football program was Graham Spanier, the Jewish university president who was forced to resign after it was revealed that he didn’t properly report the abuse to authorities.
Penn State student Felix Aronovich, on the other hand, represents a feel-good Jewish story surrounding the school’s athletic program.
Aronovich represented Israel as a member of its gymnastics team at the Olympic Games in London this summer. Born in the Ukraine and now a resident of Kiryat Motzkin, the 23-year-old gymnast realized a lifelong dream when he officially qualified for the 2012 London games based on his performance at the European Gymnastics Championships in Montpellier, France.
“Most aspiring young gymnasts envision themselves on the Olympic stage but few are able to realize this dream,” Randy Jepson, Aronovich’s coach at Penn State, told JNS.org. “My staff, our team, and myself are thrilled that Felix will be able to use his Olympic experience as a springboard into his senior season when we host the NCAA Championships in Rec Hall here at Penn State in April.”
Aronovich is an engineering science major, with a minor in nanotechnology. “He is an academic all American, and a very dedicated student,” Jepson said. “His example and success as a student and as an athlete are the epitome of what it means to be a Penn State student-athlete.”
In Israel, Aronovich trained with club team Maccabi Tel Aviv while living with his parents Leonid and Sofia. Upon graduation in 2013, he intends to pursue a master’s degree in the field of renewable energy.
Although he didn’t win any medals in London, the experience alone was the thrill of a lifetime for Aronovich.
“Before going to London I was pleased by the accomplishment of getting to compete,” Aronovich told JNS.org. “That was a prize by itself. Being there was amazing. It’s hard to put into words but it’s like being on top of the world for two weeks.”
What earned Aronovich the right to compete was an impressive series of consistent performances in numerous gymnastics competitions. He secured his place in London after finishing 11th overall in the Individual All-Around competition at the European Championships in Montpellier, meeting the Olympic Committee of Israel’s criteria.
Before Montpellier, Aronovich earned CGA First Team All-American Scholar Athlete (3.70-3.799 GPA) and Academic All-Big Ten honors, and he was named National Gymnast of the Week after capturing two first-place finishes (parallel bars and all-around) and a third place (high bar) against Ohio State University. He earned his second career Big Ten Gymnast of the Week honor for placing first in the all-around and parallel bars and second in the high bar in a tri-meet with the University of Minnesota and the University of Iowa, and he set career highs in five events (floor exercise, pommel horse, still rings, vault, and parallel bars) and the all-around.
Aronovich recorded Penn State’s highest scores of the season in the pommel horse (15.100), parallel bars (15.400), and the all-around (87.150), and was nationally ranked No. 10 (parallel bars), No. 14 (high bar), and No. 16 (still rings) at season’s end.
The gymnastics competition at the 2012 London Olympics took place from July 28-Aug. 7 at North Greenwich Arena on the banks of the River Thames. A total of 98 of the world’s top men’s gymnasts competed for team and individual honors at the 30th Games of the Olympiad—Aronovich placed 32nd in the all-around competition and did not qualify for the semifinals.
But like his parents taught him, Felix understood competing at the Olympics was more than just about his accomplishments. He understands history and knew about the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches by terrorists in Munich in 1972.
“I went to the church where they had a ceremony for the Israeli athletes who died in 1972,” Aronovich recalled. “They had a lot of dignitaries there including family members of the victims, the prime minister of England, the mayor of London and the chairman of the Olympic Committee. The most emotional part was when the wives of the victims were talking.”
Asked about the security at the London Games, Aronovich said that he felt protected and safe.
“We had British police officers outside of our hotel in full gear with AK-47s twenty four seven,” he said. “Nobody could get in the village.”
In 2012, Aronovich was a key member of a Penn State squad that finished third at the National Collegiate Championships, the program’s highest finish since the Nittany Lions won their NCAA-record 12th national title in 2007. Felix had his best collegiate season in 2012, setting career highs in five of six events and the all-around.
Aronovich learned confidence from former Penn State assistant coach Kevin Tan. Tan was the last Penn State gymnast—before Aronovich—to compete in the Olympics, when he earned a bronze medal for the U.S. at the 2008 games in Beijing.
“One of the great things about Kevin is that he makes you feel you can do anything,” Aronovich said. “He had a calming, soothing personality and he makes you feel you can achieve everything. I loved training with him.”
What does it take to be successful in gymnastics?
“The first thing you need is a small body type,” the 5-foot-6, 145-pound Aronovich told said. “Then you must be very strong. We don’t do any weight lifting or much running but we do things like pushups where you use your own body weight. You also need body awareness in the air which you need to develop at a young age.”
Moving forward, Aronovich would like to stay in the U.S. after graduation and work on using nanotechnology in solar cell devices or electronics. Whatever his path,Aronovich will bring along the humility he said his parents have instilled in him.
“When you are humble you appreciate things more,” Aronovich said. “My family is a working-class family but we didn’t struggle. They are a very loving family and always supported me in gymnastics.”
Freiman slugs Israel to WBC qualifier win
Padre prospect homers twice to give blue-and-white first ever Classic victory.
By JERUSALEM POST SPORTS STAFF
Powered by two home runs from Nate Freiman, Israel built a 7-0 lead en route to defeating South Africa, 7-3, in the first game of the World Baseball Classic’s qualifying round on Wednesday in Jupiter, Florida.
Freiman, who plays minor league Class AA baseball for the San Diego Padres organization, went yard in the first and ninth innings.
“It’s the most people I’ve ever represented wearing a jersey and I’m willing to bet for most people on the team, it’s the same way,” Freiman said after the round-opening win.
“You could see the energy in the crowd.”
Team Israel, who had hoped to employ MLB stars such as Ryan Braun, Kevin Youkilis and Ian Kinsler, was forced to stock its roster with mostly minor-leaguers like Freiman after the qualifiers were moved up to September, as the Major League season is still proceeding.
“Once the qualifier was moved to September as opposed to November, in my mind, [Freiman] was our three- or four-hole hitter,” Israel manager Brad Ausmus said.
South Africa’s starting pitcher Dylan Unsworth allowed just five hits while striking out six over six innings, drawing high praise from Ausmus and the rest of his crew, but Team Israel’s pitchers, including starter Eric Berger, stifled South Africa’s lineup for most of the night.
“He came right at us,” Ausmus said of Unsworth.
“He threw strikes. He wasn’t intimidated.
“It was a very tight ballgame for the great majority of it.”
Reliever Josh Zeid kept the momentum in Israel’s favor. Zeid, who played this year with Double-A Corpus Christi in the Astros organization, entered in the bottom of the sixth with runners at second and third with one out, a onerun lead and the heart of South Africa’s lineup due up.
Zeid struck out three-hole hitter Jonathan Phillips, intentionally walked Shannon Ekermans and induced an infield popout from Brett Willemburg to escape the jam and allow the entire Israeli roster to breathe a sigh of relief.
“Huge difference. Not only is it a big difference in terms of the scoreboard, it could be a big momentum shift,” Ausmus said.
“Zeid’s inning-plus there was probably the turning point of the game for us.”
Israel will face next against either Spain or France tonight, and the winner of the four-team bracket advances to the next phase of the international tournament in March 2013.
If Israel advances past the qualifying round, several current Jewish MLB stars may join the team, including Youkilis, Braun, and Kinsler.
Art Modell, ex-owner of NFL’s Browns and Ravens, dies
September 6, 2012
BALTIMORE (JTA.org) – Art Modell, former owner of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns, has died.
Modell was well-known for his philanthropic activities and had been a supporter of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. He also chaired a $100 million drive to build a cardiovascular tower for the Johns Hopkins Heart Institute. He and his wife, Patricia, donated $3.5 million to renovate the city’s Lyric Opera House, which is now named for its benefactors.
“He really cared and cared deeply whether for Jews, Catholics or the plight of cities,” Marc Terrill, president of the Associated, told JTA. “He simply cared about people, and his actions revealed his admirable character and he’ll be missed.”
Modell grew up in an Orthodox neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1920s and 1930s as the son of an electronics dealer who lost everything in the 1929 stock market crash. With his family destitute, Modell dropped out of high school to work as an electrician’s helper at a New York shipyard, making 45 cents an hour.
After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, he returned to New York and rightly identified the nascent television industry as a strong growth market. He eventually moved from TV production to advertising
In 1960, while working at a Madison Avenue advertising agency, the avid sports fan learned that the Cleveland Browns were for sale. Modell, then 35, jumped at the opportunity. He put down $3.93 million for the team and moved to Cleveland.
He was soon negotiating contracts for the NFL with television networks — serving as head of the NFL’s television committee for 31 years — and pushed for the creation of “Monday Night Football.”
In 1996, Modell broke the heart of Browns fans by moving his team to Baltimore and changing its name to the Ravens.
The city of Cleveland went to court to block the move. The case ended with a $12 million settlement from Modell, including the promise that Modell would allow a new team to play in Cleveland with the Browns name and records.
Ironically, the Baltimore Colts had been taken from the city to Indianapolis by owner Robert Irsay in 1984, breaking the hearts of Baltimore fans.
In 1999, due to financial difficulties, Modell sold a minority interest in the Ravens to Steve Biscotti, who eventually bought the controlling interests in 2004.
Patricia Modell died last October at 80.
Schwartzes first Jewish brothers in NFL since 1923
Cleveland Brown Mitchell Schwartz and his brother, Geoff, a Minnesota Viking, are Jewish boys in the NFL
The history of famous Jewish sports heroes is not particularly long in professional football, but the Schwartz brothers are trying to change that one offensive lineman at a time.
Yes, Browns tackle Mitchell Schwartz and Vikings tackle Geoff Schwartz are the first Jewish brothers to play in the NFL since Ralph and Arnold Horween in 1923. Mitchell was a second round pick of the Browns that is expected to start right away. Geoff played four years with the Panthers before moving to Minnesota as a free agent.
“In the football culture, it’s hard to miss a game for religion-especially when people don’t understand the religion,” Geoff told TabletMag.com.
Along with Bears tackle Gabe Carimi, suddenly there are a lot of young Jewish offensive linemen in the league. Perhaps Hebrew schools will become the next big hot spot for college football recruiters.