June 2, 2024
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June 2, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

NCSY 4G Hits ‘Grand Slam’ With Girls Softball Tournament

Naaleh team photo. (Credit: Avi Vogel)

Avi Vogel had a dream. There are dreamers and then there are people who “stay up all night,” and do the work instead of just dreaming. Vogel recalled: “Following the Columbus Baseball Yeshiva Boys Tournament last year, parents who had girls asked if they could also run a girls’ softball tournament, as we’d love for our girls to have the same special experience. My daughter, Hannah who plays for Frisch, remarked that she’d love to participate in a tournament, but softball is one of the few yeshiva high school sports that does not have a tournament.”

When another parent also remarked about putting something together; Vogel and his daughter decided to embark on founding exactly such a tournament. They reached out to yeshiva high schools across the U.S. and Canada, receiving soft commitments from seven schools. “Our goal was to have quality competition, fun experiences and meaningful programming. Thinking about what organization we should partner with and speaking with others who run such tournaments through the U.S., it became clear that NCSY 4G would be a perfect partner,” added Vogel. They thought the optimal experience for the players would be to stay together in a single venue and to also spend Shabbos together as a focus of the tournament experience. “My wife suggested we have it at a camp and thought Dora Golding would be great as it is close to the Bergen County area,” explained Vogel, thus drawing a number of teams from the yeshiva high schools league nearby.

Campfire with marshmallows and S’mores.
(Credit: Avi Vogel)

NCSY 4G was excited to collaborate, despite having just two months’ notice.

The interested schools were: Berman (Maryland), Central, Frisch, Ma’ayanot and Naaleh. Other schools declined mostly due to pre-existing scheduled events or budgetary considerations. Although an odd number of teams creates scheduling difficulties for a tournament, organizers got creative to ensure there would be three simultaneous games by forming a sixth team they dubbed “fusion.” Extra players from each team joined to play against the fifth team, evening out the tournament schedule to six teams—genius!

Arriving on Thursday afternoon May 16, teams settled into their bunks, received their swag sweatshirts and welcome bags, and changed to play the first round of games. A welcome enhancement to the tournament was the pre-dinner appetizer surprise of DippinDots the players enjoyed after the afternoon games.

A scrumptious BBQ dinner was prepared by the famous Chef Yo. Then the teams were again matched up, but this time for a super fun trivia game run by Digital Dov (aka Dov Katz). Ma’ayanot grabbed the victory, along with some pretty cool tournament sweatpants. Punctuating a great first day, everyone joined for a late night camp fire including S’mores.

Frisch team photo. (Credit: Avi Vogel)

Day two featured two additional games for each of the now six teams.

The tournament used modified fast pitch rules of the Yeshiva League. However, Berman showed up with a surprise weapon waiting to be unleashed—eighth grader Yael Schwartz, a simply phenomenal pitcher who pitches in the windmill style. Fast pitch aficionados know the windmill to be a pretty wicked pitch, indeed. Some felt that the playing field would not be equal if she pitched windmill. However, the spirit of the tournament reigned, and they decided to allow her to fire away as she knew best … “and did she ever!” exclaimed Vogel. Most batters found themselves considerably overmatched and were back on the bench in short order. Yeshiva University showed up, scouting for talented players. Unfortunately, YU will have to wait another four years before Yael can consider joining the Lady Macs!

Before the afternoon games, a one-inning tie breaker between Central and Berman expanded into three innings, and turned out to be one of the most exciting match-ups of the tournament.

New Jersey teams together. (Credit: Avi Vogel)

The Erev Shabbos afternoon games concluded in a tournament tie between Naaleh and Frisch, each with three wins and no losses heading into the Sunday championship … and topped off by a very welcome pre-Shabbos dose of DippinDots. Closing out the pre-Shabbos activities, players from each team vied in a skills contest. Winners were crowned in several categories: fastest player—Meital Rimberg, Ma’ayanot; throwing distance—Ava Reschke, Central; longest hit—Kira Hoffer, Frisch; throwing accuracy—Shifra Prager, Ma’ayanot.

To highlight the bonding and achdut, Vogel pointed out that the competitors for the longest hit, were required to provide their own pitcher. In a true testament to the integration of these teams; the winner, Kira Hoffer from Frisch, asked the coach of Berman to pitch to her.

A spontaneous add-on competition originated from Michael Spindel, Central’s coach. He came up with the idea to have a coaches’ competition for throwing accuracy, and one of Central’s own coaches ended up earning that honor. Coincidence? You decide…

Frisch is ready for Shabbos. (Credit: Avi Vogel)

NCSY 4G then assumed the lead for a beautiful Shabbos, and a wonderful bonding opportunity for the players from each team, and even for players on the same team.

Vogel described the NCSY 4G Shabbos as being, “filled with ruach, meaningful sessions, Divrei Torah from the teams, a coaches panel, an invigorating Shabbos-appropriate games tournament sponsored by Leket Israel, Shirah and a special ‘shiur’ on how Gatorade was made kosher by Frisch’s very own coach, Ronnie Siesser.”

Motzei Shabbos featured a “Minute to Win-It,” style game show, some laughing to the point of tears. Ma’ayanot pulled out the victory, but the second place Berman Cougars won the highly coveted tournament sweatpants. Nightcap? Of course: more DippinDots!

Sunday morning the umps arrived along with parents who drove out to cheer on their girls for the fourth and final game for all teams. Frisch edged out Naaleh 3-2 to take home the championship of the NCSY 4G 2024 Inaugural Softball Tournament. Eliana Kieffer of Frisch was voted MVP, highlighted by her spectacular shortstop play, the line shots she sprayed around the field and the bomb to center that plated all three runs for Frisch. And of course, the tournament dessert? Another round of DippinDots!

Ma’ayanot team photo (Credit: Avi Vogel)

Ma’ayanot coach Yoni Lieber commented, “The memories these girls will have from this weekend will last a very long time.” Zach Fogel, Berman’s coach, said he and his team had an amazing time, with several players exclaiming, “It was the best weekend ever!”

Coach Aviva Sturm of Naaleh beamed, “The tournament was excellent; the girls had a really incredible time … bonded so nicely with the other schools and formed such nice relationships, so beautiful to see.”

This year’s inaugural tournament was dedicated in memory of Mrs. Lorraine Vogel whose third yahrzeit is coming up soon. Her love of camp, and Jewish children coming together to have fun, build friends and grow spiritually, were a perfect match for the values they tried to instill into the tournament. “Combined with the meaningful sessions and learning run by NCSY 4G on Shabbos, we tried to commemorate and emulate the values she treasured,” said Vogel.

“We anticipate growing this tournament to eight-12 teams for next year,” he added.

Vogel also gratefully acknowledged Nicole Kinches with a daughter on the Frisch team, and Rabbi Dr. Ari Mermelstein with two daughters on the Ma’ayanot team, who served on the planning committee and were instrumental in making the tournament a reality.

Natan Cohen, NCSY director of Marketing, enthusiastically weighed in with his perspective on three of the important benefits of the tournament. “Sports can unite everyone, and girls who never met can make meaningful connections.” He also noted the importance for both girls and boys to enjoy single gender events where they can be themselves.

Cohen agreed that one of the amazing things about the tournament was how the planners flipped a problem into something that actually enhanced it: “…by creating Team Fusion, which contained players from all five teams working together.”

Ettie Greenberg of Na’aleh fires in her pitch.
(Credit: Avi Vogel)

As it turned out, Cohen also served as an umpire for the tournament. “Honestly, Avi needed help. I am a New Jersey state certified umpire through NJSIAA, and when anyone asks for help, I believe you should always say yes if you can help out.”

Suzanne Rabinovitch, 4G director, New Jersey, New York & New Jersey NCSY, echoed Cohen:  “The mission of 4G NCSY is to create a community of growth, connecting girls from different schools and communities and empowering them to develop an authentic relationship with their Judaism. This is precisely what the 4G Softball Invitational was able to achieve by bringing girls from five different schools together to connect and grow through their common passion of softball. We are so grateful to have been able to provide such a mission-aligned opportunity for these girls and can’t wait to see what’s next!”

Stay tuned for the tournament announcements for next year!

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