ITHACA, NY -- I remember the interview I did with Rich Bernstein of Ithaca when he was chosen to be part of the U.S. delegation to Israel to participate in the Maccabiah Games in 2017 (the Maccabiah Games are often referred to as the Jewish Olympics). Rich was still working for the Ithaca City School District at that time — he had coached hundreds of cross country runners to reach deeper than they thought they could to become better runners, and he was always willing to help me with a story. He knew that young athletes enjoyed — and benefited from — media attention, and he liked being part of their evolution as athletes and people.
Since that time, Rich was instrumental in launching the cross country program at TC3, retired from ICSD, and always loved to talk about (what he thought was) the once-in-a-lifetime experience of going to the Maccabiah Games as an assistant coach. Well, when the invitation came to go back to the Games next summer — this time as the head coach — Rich was as grateful as he was excited.
We talked about this new development, and Rich told me, “The Maccabiah Games are held the year after the Olympics, so it was supposed to be this summer, but obviously, everything got postponed a year.” He added, “I am really looking forward to it, and I would describe it as a rugged, three-week adventure.” Asked why he described it that way, Rich said, “Well, it takes a lot of energy to plan out the schedules and chaperone high school students 24/7. We go on tours of ancient historical sites, we put in hundreds of miles on buses, and it's 100 degrees every day.” Making sure not to leave out one of the most important components, Bernstein said, “We also have to factor in where and when to train.”
The Games feature every Olympic sport, and in Rich's words, “Our actual competitions will be held during the last week, and in 2017, during our down time we went to watch other events, like basketball, golf and a few other things.”
Rich feels very confident about going as the head coach, and he told me, “I know the schedules, I have familiarity with the security measures we have to take, I'm looking forward to it.” Asked to elaborate a bit, he pointed out that any large gathering faces a degree of risk, and he said, “We have Army soldiers on the bus with us. You always have to be aware of who you are and what you are. In fact, last time, we had a young lady who went to take some photos and we had to go and find her.” I heard a sigh of relief when he shared the happy ending of that story. He continued, “I love being a part of this, as it is a great experience for the kids. It's cool seeing the look of wonder on their faces when we first get there, and I'm very happy to go again.”
Asked if his long and fruitful career as a track coach opened the door for him, Rich laughed and said, “Yes. And, of course, I'm Jewish.”
Rich did not ask me to do this, but I want to point out that a GoFundMe effort has been launched to help make this return trip possible. You can find the fundraiser at https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-me-return-to-israel?qid=63232b28d2220bc45b34ef4322dff1d7 or by searching “Help me return to Israel” on GoFundMe. I encourage my friends and readers to join me in supporting this worthy endeavor.
Many thanks to Cornell Athletics for welcoming the 1971 Cornell lacrosse team to take part in the Homecoming festivities. About 15 of the guys showed up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the program's first (of three) titles. The players surrounded their beloved coach Richie Moran on the Schoellkopf Terrace, and they all looked happy and proud as the video camera splashed their mugs on the Jumbotron screen for all 12,000 fans to see. They got a rousing ovation, then spent the rest of the weekend celebrating a half-century of friendship. It was a great gathering, and I was honored to be a part of it.