Fierce, strong and full of confidence. That describes the Mayerson JCC girls basketball team today. But that wasn’t always the case.
Sports and Recreation Director Mike Creemer has watched their growth over the last several years, starting with the 2019-2020 season. At the time, they were still finding their footing and working on their basketball skills. In the 2020-21 season, the team evolved and finished 7-3 and won their division.
The team is made up of 6-8 graders, and the majority of the girls on the team are Orthodox Jews, which presents some logistical challenges for their schedule. Game times need to be adjusted to accommodate Jewish holiday observances, and most of the girls have a different winter break than other schools. For modesty reasons, only their moms are allowed to cheer them on. Despite all this, the team finds times to practice and play games.
“The first season was tough,” Mike said. “They still needed to learn fundamental skills, how to compete, and how the game works. Success comes from confidence, and they were still building that at the time.”
In that first year, the team’s record was 0-10. This season, however, they finished with an impressive 7-5 record—a testament to how far they have come. This year, they played in the Cincinnati Premiere Youth Basketball League in the eighth-grade division; their success is even more impressive, given a number of the players are not yet that age.
“The girls really grew coming into this year,” Mike said. “Everyone could see their development, and they moved to the front line of competing.”
The team’s confidence has been boosted playing the game. While the games are about building sportsmanship and learning how to work together as a team, the wins also validate their effort. It shows them that their hard work isn’t for nothing. They can play and win.
Sharon Bramy, a JCC member, was asked by several of the eighth graders from Cincinnati Hebrew Day School to join the team as the assistant coach after subbing for their gym class earlier this year. This was her first year coaching anything, and she learned quite a bit. Her oldest daughter, Eliana, lent a helping hand as well. Most of her previous experience came from watching Eliana play on a basketball team for the past 7 years.
“Watching the game as a parent is different than sitting on the bench as an assistant coach,” Sharon said. “I wanted to make sure that the team, collectively, enjoyed their experience this season.
Something that Coach Mike repeated a lot was that while winning was the goal, as long as they put in the effort and played hard, that is what counted in the end. I enjoyed seeing the realization in these girls that even though some games were rough and we lost, it was a learning experience, and something that helped them grow.”
Coach Mike got Sharon up to speed with the team’s progress and where they stood. Sharon saw her role as helping the girls on the team build confidence and preparing them for the unexpected.
It came time for the end of season tournament. Not only did their skills show on the court, but so did their integrity. During the first game of the tournament, the opposing team had only five players show up, and one of the players was injured. Instead of playing five against the four, Mike chose to send out just four players so the teams could play evenly and fairly.
The opposing team’s coach said it was not necessary for them to do that, but that she appreciated it.
“At one point, the other coach asked why the majority of the girls were wearing skirts, and I explained that while the JCC Blue Jays girls basketball team is open to everyone, the majority of the players on this season’s team wear skirts for modesty reasons,” Sharon said. “It was obvious that she was not used to being around observant Jews, and I have to say, I think our team set a great example of our strong Jewish values as well as team ethics.”
The Blue Jays won that game—four players and all.
Time for the next round. After this tournament win, the team went on to play against a really strong White Oak team. Although the Blue Jays lost, they continued to keep up with them. All of their training and hard work showed through when it came down to the final game in the tournament.
Mike remembers watching their speed and stamina. Although they were playing against a more experienced team, they were able to keep up and keep the other team on their toes.
The team also took part in a friendly, yet intense exhibition game against the girls basketball team from Atara High School at the JCC. It was a great community event, and the bleachers were filled with fans
rooting for their teams! The Blue Jays won 24-19, another testament to their skill and determination.
“The girls know they competed against the big league,” Mike said. “They know they won a tournament game. They kept coming and kept up with the other team. They were tenacious. It really is cool to watch.”