The JCC Open Benefits Youth Sports

It is not news that exercise is beneficial. For youth, it is recommended that 60 minutes of daily rigorous activity is needed to support physical health development. Youth sports provides not only physical activity, but a community for youth to grow and flourish. Just ask LeBron James.

Nearly 20 years ago, a tall, lanky kid from Akron who would wear the #23 for the Cleveland Cavaliers walked onto the hardwood court at Shaw Jewish Community Center on White Pond Drive in Akron, Ohio, participating in youth basketball clinics. At the time, he was only 5’ 11’’ and the most special thing about him was that he wanted to learn.

Coach Keith Dambrot, now the head basketball coach at Duquesne University, conducted those sessions that attracted between 50 and 100 players. “That’s where I first met him. Just a guy that wanted to be taught, wanted to be coached, wanted to please you—spongelike.”

Present-day James has three NBA championships to his name and a legendary status cemented in history. Who knows where the next sports legend is getting his or her start? Like LeBron James, perhaps it is at the JCC.


The JCC of Greater Columbus (JCC) emphasizes both community and physical activity. Its mission states a commitment to enhancing the quality of life through the promotion of physical, intellectual, and spiritual wellness. Every year, 1,200 kids participate in JCC athletics, programs, and activities from basketball to baseball, indoor recreation to swim lessons in an effort to provide an outlet for physical activity while creating a sense of community.

Jeanna Brownlee, JCC Sports and Wellness Director, oversees the youth sports program and sees first-hand the benefit to the participants and their families.

“I see kids come in all the time at the beginning of the program, shy and unsure of themselves and of the sport,” Brownlee said, “Throughout the season, not only do they learn skills in their sport but they develop leadership, friendships, and gain confidence and that is truly amazing to see.”

At the JCC, it usually becomes a family affair.  “I see not only kids participate in the sports but their entire families become involved from volunteer coaching to scorekeeping,” Brownlee added, “and it creates a special atmosphere.”

One such former JCC youth athlete is Ben Levey, who spent most of his childhood and teenage years at the JCC playing basketball, attending JCC Summer Camp, and using the JCC fitness center for soccer conditioning. Levey was an Erkis/Berliner Jewish Scholar Athlete nominee his senior year of high school and participated in the 2001 JCC Maccabi Games in Sarasota, Fl.

“Whenever there were sports going on, I was there,” Levey recalls, “Without the JCC, I wouldn’t have had a place to play every day growing up. Playing with people in the community and having the Jewish culture around me developed me as a leader and a team player in the community and how hard work gets you to where you need to be successful.”

Levey continues his passion for sports as the League Director of the Columbus Youth Soccer Association, overseeing the entire recreation program. Six years ago, he started a youth soccer league in Kenya that now provides a place for over 600 kids throughout the year to play soccer every weekend under a team of coaches, providing positive structure and leadership opportunities. Levey still serves as the director of the league and travels to Kenya every year, working to fundraise and continually build opportunities for the organization.

“Kenya really opened my eyes,” Levey said, “I found my passion to create opportunities for every kid to play no matter what. If I didn’t have that opportunity to look forward to a game every weekend or practice in the evenings, I would not be the type of person I am today. No matter who you are, everybody should be able to play. It brings the community together.”

Because of his work in youth sports, Levey very clearly sees the benefits and the need for community support.

“Every kid should have the ability to play whether they can afford it or not. Learning sports at the JCC and always having the opportunity to play there starting at four-years-old gave me all the tools to be confident and successful,” Levy said.

Truly exemplifying the belief stated in its mission and highlighting its promotion of youth sports, the JCC is presenting its first JCC Open, July 14 and July 16. Combining community and sports, the JCC will host two days of activities and events appropriate for all ages that will benefit the JCC Youth Sports Program.

In the biggest event of the summer, many different offerings open up opportunities for all ages. Rebranding the Sports Spectacular, the JCC Open will still include popular events like golf and tennis, adding the annual Abe Weinrib Memorial 5K Trail Run/Walk, 1-Mile Family Fun Walk and a Kid’s Dash, a community Shabbat dinner, and end the weekend with a full-out celebration in the form of the JCC Funtacular.

Friday holds a golf outing at 12:00 p.m. at Champions Golf Club, formerly Winding Hollow Country Club and the original location for the JCC’s Sports Spectacular event. At 6:30 p.m., everyone is invited to return the JCC College Ave for a Community Shabbat Dinner, featuring Chef Toney’s fried chicken. Sunday kicks off at 9:00 am with the JCC Tennis Open, the annual Abe Weinrib Memorial 5K Trail Run/Walk and Children’s Fun Run, and the JCC Funtacular.

Randi and Marty Lewis, co-chairs of the Abe Weinrib Memorial 5K Trail Run/Walk, note the importance of community involvement and the significance of exercise for youth extending into adulthood.

“To participate in youth sports at the JCC, you don’t have to be a tremendous athlete. They appeal to everybody. You don’t have to be LeBron James to build good and positive character traits,” said Marty Lewis, “It builds up a life-long appreciation for exercise which is healthy. We should encourage youth sports for that reason and support the opportunity to create healthy habits through a social activity.”

The Memorial 5K was established to honor Abe Weinrib, a Holocaust survivor who lived to be 102-years-old and exercised well into his 90s . Abe attributed his long life to a positive demeanor.  “Exercise should be a life-long activity. Abe lived to be over 100 and promoted exercise for everybody. We want this event to be as positive as Abe was,” Randi Lewis said.

The run also includes a one mile family walk and a children’s fun run, emphasizing the availability of participation not only to serious runners who can have their run timed, but also to parents with strollers and toddlers, and older adults who simply want to exercise in nature on a walk with friends.

“We want to include the entire community,” said Randi Lewis, “We want to instill the positive feelings of being outdoors and getting good exercise, building good habits from a young age and providing accessibility for all ages.”

The Children’s Fun Run ends where the JCC Funtacular begins. The wrap-up event of the JCC Open and a celebration of the summer, the JCC Funtacular is a family-oriented event filled with inflatables, food, games, music, and more.

“This event will entertain kids and show off many of the things the JCC has to offer,” said Rachel Licthen, co-chair of the Funtacular. “It is free for JCC members and all JCC Open participants to say thank you for their continued support. It is tremendously important that we have the community support to continue to provide all the wonderful services and activities for the community.”

Lichten has three children, all involved in youth sports. “The programs are well run. They taught my boys to work as part of a team, I love that they get to play with other Jewish kids their age which solidifies them as part of the Jewish community from a very young age,” Lichten said.

“The youth sports program really allows kids to just be kids, to enjoy the sport, learn skills, and socialize,” Brownlee said, “They learn teamwork, leadership, structuring of their time, respect and sportsmanship. These extend outside sports and help build successful community members.”

The JCC Open brings a sense of community, bringing it together to support youth sports. To register for each individual event, visit the columbusjcc.org/jccopen. For sponsorship opportunities of further questions, contact Sheila Cline at scline@columbusjcc.org or 614-559-6225.