The JCC’s tradition honoring Jewish community members who’ve made significant contributions to Jewish athletics will continue this August with the induction of Eric J. Schottenstein into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and with Richard Williams being presented the Charles Solomon Award.
Schottenstein and Williams both have long histories in sports—Schottenstein with professional tennis and Williams with the JCC Maccabi Games. The awards ceremony begins at 6:30 p.m. at the JCC on Wednesday, August 26.
Neil Newman will introduce and induct Eric Schottenstein into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame for his achievements in the world of professional tennis. Newman is a legend in his own right, and Schottenstein remarked on what an honor it is to receive induction from the JCC by one of his own heroes growing up.
“I take a lot of inspiration from Neil. He is a sports psychologist and has given me a ton of support. To receive this honor from him, it just makes it all the sweeter. I was hitting with Neil when I was 14 years old, so 40 years later to be here now, it’s just an amazing moment for me,” Schottenstein said.
He began playing tennis at the age of three with his father, Melvin L. Schottenstein, uncle, David Green, and grandfather, IJ Green. Schottenstein has been teaching tennis since he was 14, and continues teaching at the Olympic Indoor Tennis Club and Rocky Fork Hunt and Country Club.
Between managing his company, EJ Schottenstein Real Estate, and teaching tennis, he still plays tennis professionally, in tournaments such as The Central Ohio Grand Prix and the Midwest Open. “In doubles, in each of the last 9 tournaments I played, I’ve been able to win each one. This was very lucky, because I’ve had a lot of different partners, including my own sons. For me, that is really fun. We play a lot of collegiate players and obviously they’re a lot younger than me, but that’s the beauty of how the sport is played,” Schottenstein explained.
He also earned the title of Master Professional tennis player with The United States Professional Tennis Registry, through which he is certified to teach. His favorite moments on the court have been those spent watching his own children and students succeed.
“Seeing my own kids—students and personal—achieve on the tennis courts has been very gratifying. My two older boys, in the eight years they were in high school, we had two state championships and three state runner-ups. My son, Abram, making the U.S. Maccabi team was a really nice moment; we watched him play in Israel. I’ve also had students play in college and compete in state tournaments, and that’s been super rewarding. Another highlight has been seeing them follow me and then get certified [to teach],” Schottenstein added.
The JCC also played a part in Schottenstein’s maturation in the sport. “Starting when I was ten years old over at the JCC, there was always some activity going on. The community was always very helpful and supportive. When I was a young teen, the men had teams and they would invite me to play even though I was much younger. That gave me great insight. I’m still hitting with some of those same people, like Mike Broidy.”
“I recognized really quickly that the sport, at that time, the 1960s-1970s, was not very Jewish at all. It made me a little different, kind of became elemental. I was lucky to also get exposed to some projects like the Israeli tennis centers,” Schottenstein said. He went on to play Division I tennis for Tufts University. “My higher college moments were playing at these big Ivy League schools where we were expected to get trounced, and we would overachieve and get by all these teams that were supposed to get us, like in the movie, The Bad News Bears.”
His growth in tennis, which he acknowledged helped him understand the importance of ethics and morality on the court—and was tangential to his Jewish education—has extended into his personal and professional growth off the court. “I think it translates a lot into business success and family success and trying to do the work in order to merit the goals. I’ve always tried to be precise about that; practice and put it into play in other parts of my life,” said Schottenstein.
“Today, tennis has become a sanctum, almost a refuge for me as I’ve aged; a place where, when I get back out on the court, even with my own children, we’re all little again,” he reflected.
For Richard Williams, who will also be honored that evening with the Charles Solomon Award, athletics have also provided great opportunity for bonding with his family. One by one, each of his six children have participated in the JCC Maccabi Games, and Williams’ dedication to the Games has grown exponentially over the years, as he’s gone from parent, to spectator, to chaperone, to coach. “The beauty of JCC Maccabi for my kids was that one would participate, and the next would watch and would be eager for when it was their turn to play,” he said.
Williams’ younger sons and daughter waited for their turn while his two oldest sons played. Then, Williams coached his daughter in basketball, and he looks forward to joining his youngest son, Noah, at this year’s JCC Maccabi Games in Dallas, where Noah will be playing table tennis. When Columbus hosts the JCC Maccabi Games for the fifth time next July 2016, it will be Williams’ 15th year with his family participating in the Games.
As former Treasurer and current member of the JCC Board of Trustees and a lifelong JCC member, first in Cleveland where he grew up and then in Columbus, Willliams’ commitment to youth athletics began while playing JCC sports as a youth himself. “When I was a kid, we played games outside– whether it was baseball, football, basketball, or other sports. We would go around the neighborhood rounding up other kids, looking for a game. I still enjoy being active, so I’ve been able to coach wherever I was needed over the years. For me, it’s been more about helping the kids, assisting the kids, making sure the kids have a positive environment and relationship. A good coach is one who gives the kids the confidence boost that they need when their spirits are a little bit down,” he said.
Willliams also said he feels honored to receive the Solomon Award for his dedication to Jewish youth sports, and for his commitment to the Jewish community through his volunteer efforts. “When any organization wants to say thank you to an individual for the activities and the work and volunteering that somebody has done, it is a great honor. It’s their way of saying the Center values and treasures the work I have done for all the teams and kids I have coached or chaperoned in Maccabi. It’s just a very wonderful award and it’s nice to know my actions on behalf of the JCC and the Maccabi Games are appreciated.”
The real reward, for Williams and his family, has truly been the wonderful memories made as Williams successfully coached over ten JCC Maccabi teams in tennis, basketball, table tennis, and helped with baseball, alongside his kids. “My family looks forward to going to Maccabi every year. We have lots of favorite Maccabi memories—too many positive memories for there to be only one. Israel was a wonderful experience, the San Diego JCC Maccabi games many years ago were a wonderful experience. The first Maccabi event I went to in Memphis, Tennessee was a wonderful experience. I’ve had some teams that have won some medals, and it’s always nice to win and have your team experience a successful outcome, but Maccabi is not just about the wins and losses. It’s more important than that. It’s about the kids going and having a good time meeting other Jewish kids from all over the world. All of Maccabi is sort of my favorite memory.”
In addition to honoring Eric Schottenstein and Richard Williams, the JCC Sports Spectacular will feature a 2015 OSU Football Season Preview with Bill Rabinowitz and Tim May, OSU beat writers for The Columbus Dispatch. After the Awards Reception on August 26 at which Rabinowitz and May will also speak, Sports Spectacular will continue the following Sunday, August 30, with a Racquetball Tournament at the JCC and a Tennis Tournament at Wolfe Park in Bexley. Both tournaments start at 8:30 am. A Golf Outing at The Medallion Club in Westerville will conclude the event on Monday, August 31 at 8:30 am. For more information on sponsorship opportunities and more, contact Sheila Cline at email@example.com or call (614) 559-6225.