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  • Neil Schechter (left) and his partner, Scott Kalb, won gold medals for Team USA after defeating masters tennis doubles teams from Australia, Israel and Argentina.
    Neil Schechter (left) and his partner, Scott Kalb, won gold medals for Team USA after defeating masters tennis doubles teams from Australia, Israel and Argentina.
  • Neil Schechter (second from right) and Scott Kalb (second from left) formed a friendship with their Argentinean opponents, Gustavo Gewerc and Gustavo Snaidman.
    Neil Schechter (second from right) and Scott Kalb (second from left) formed a friendship with their Argentinean opponents, Gustavo Gewerc and Gustavo Snaidman.

Severna Park Tennis Player Notches Gold In 2017 Maccabiah Games

Zach Sparks
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August 8, 2017

Neil Schechter doesn’t consider himself a world-class athlete but upon landing in Israel for the 20th Maccabiah Games from July 4-18, the Severna Park tennis player and his peers received royal treatment.

“It was incredible to see 10,000 athletes marching in from 80-some countries,” Schechter said, recalling the opening ceremonies.

After winning several games in the city of Ramat HaSharon, including the final against Argentina, Schechter and his doubles partner, Scott Kalb of Connecticut, each took home a gold medal for masters tennis in the 60-and-older age group.

“It’s not the Olympics,” Schechter said of the Maccabiah Games. “It’s sometimes called the Jewish Olympics. The competition level is high. The camaraderie and history is very unique.”

Schechter returned to the games after winning bronze in Tel Aviv in 2013 and silver in the European Maccabi Games in Berlin two years ago. He had never played with Kalb, who recruited Schechter after the two met in 2013.

After qualifying for Team USA in fall 2016, Schechter prepared by playing tennis almost daily, running and working with trainer Andrew Carlson at Chartwell Country Club. “He worked on being more consistent and adding more top spin,” Carlson said. “His dedication to the game stands out. He lives tennis.”

Injuries were a paramount concern for all competitors heading to Israel. “It’s about who can withstand the conditions,” Kalb said. “It’s about 100 degrees or hotter on the courts; they’re hard courts and you’re out there for hours.”

Schechter and Kalb advanced past the first stage of the competition, with matchups decided by a draw format, and entered the medal stage. For doubles tennis, all games were decided once a team won eight matches.

The USA duo defeated Australia by walkover on July 13 and Amos Givon and Reuven Darvasi of Israel, 8-0, on July 14. The finals on July 16 pitted the Americans against Argentineans Gustavo Gewerc and Gustavo Snaidman, who towered over their opponents.

The U.S. athletes were accustomed to getting off to a hot start, but that wasn’t the case against the tough Argentina team in the finals.

“One was just this lefty with a big serve, and they came out and killed us in the first game,” Kalb said. “After that, we were able to neutralize them and take control.”

Schechter attributed a pulled hamstring to his early struggles, but he moved back from the net to improve his range while also relying on Kalb to cover more ground. “It was a great tennis match but also a great chess match,” Schechter said.

Gewerc was straightforward in his assessment. “Playing on the fast court of cement is very different from playing on a court of brick dust,” said Gewerc, who spent 10 years as a captain of class 45A in the FACCMA (Federacion Argentina de Centros Comunitarios Macabeos) tournament. “That played against me, just like the weather.”

Although it was their first major event together, both American players complemented each other well and were always communicating on the court.

“Neil has a terrific serve and a very strong ground stroke,” Kalb said. “I’m very strong tactically. I probably have more experience in doubles. Also, I have strong volleys.”

Scott Ehrlich, Team USA’s head coach for masters tennis, used a Yiddish term meaning “honorable man” to describe Schechter and Kalb.

“Their big serves and solid volleys help them smash the competition,” said Ehrlich. “Most importantly, they are menches representing Team USA with the highest regard.”

The most satisfying moment for Schechter was when the Argentina coach approached him and Kalb after the game to congratulate them. The gesture was befitting of the respect both opponents showed before, during and after the contest.

“The Argentinean team gave us their shirts after we beat them and they want them back after they beat us in four years,” Schechter joked.

While “it’s always nice to walk away with some hardware,” as Kalb put it, the occasion held special significance for both him and his tennis partner.

“The history of the Maccabiah Games is that it was an opportunity for Jews who couldn’t compete in Europe to compete in a parallel competition,” said Schechter, tracing the event to its 1932 origin. “… So there is a big connection between pre-war problems and persecution by the Nazis.

“You see a few Olympic-level athletes or a few who will compete in future Olympics, but this is much more than a sporting event,” Schechter added. As an example, he cited that in 2013, the Maccabiah Games had a Cuban delegation for the first time in its history. “It continues that tradition of expansion of freedom across the world.”

Schechter also cherished the opportunity to combine his love of Israel with his passion for tennis. He complimented Klein Enterprises for allowing him to take time off from his job as general counsel. “I got a lot of support here. [Klein] printed up some shirts I could compete in with their names.”

Team USA won 34 medals at the games, and Schechter was glad to participate. Schechter and Kalb may reunite for the Pan American Games.

“Neil is a great partner – kind of a quiet guy, but he comes up big,” said Kalb.


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