In its 25th year, Jewish sports hall of fame draws from a deep bench

 Benny Alberstein

Benny Alperstein

When the Greater Washington Jewish Sports Hall of Fame holds its 25th annual induction ceremony on Nov. 19, its inductees will admittedly have less stature than the hall of fame’s original class. But Andy Pollin, a local sports radio talk show host who is on the hall of fame’s selection committee, said that the area has had plenty of Jewish athletes and sports figures to honor over the years.

“All those old jokes about Jewish athletes that say they can have their convention in a phone booth just aren’t true,” said Pollin “A lot of people thought this wouldn’t be able to sustain itself, but it has for all of these years.”

The hall of fame, which is run by the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, includes a wide range of athletes and other people in the sports world, including boxers of the 1930s, agents and owners and a good number of minor league baseball players.

Its annual “Dinner of Champions” benefits a program that enables children with disabilities to participate in the JCC’s summer camp.

Last year, the dinner raised more than $400,000 for the program, according to Adam Tennen, the JCC’s chief development officer.
The hall of fame’s original class in 1992 included such local sports legends as basketball coach Red Auerbach, the owner of the Wizards and the Capitals Abe Pollin (a cousin of Andy Pollin), the sportswriter Shirley Povich and tennis player Nancy Ornstein.

The hall of fame also includes athletes from sports that are more off the beaten path — in 2009, for example, the hall of fame inducted Polish-born Halina Yasharoff-Peabody, a table tennis player who was injured by a bomb during World War II and found solace in her sport, eventually winning the Montgomery County mixed doubles and women’s titles in 1975.

Red Auerbach

Red Auerbach

This year’s class of inductees includes Alvin Lann, a standout local high school track athlete and basketball player whose athletic career was interrupted by his service in World War II but nevertheless played basketball for the University of Maryland. Another inductee,

Lisa Levin Reichmann, is a Gaithersburg lawyer who has run the Boston Marathon 13 times, competed in triathlons and won the gold medal in the half marathon at the 2003 Pan-American Maccabi games.

Inductees into the hall of fame must be from the greater Washington area, have lived here or have played a good deal of their career here — and they must be Jewish. The Bender JCC displays portraits of its inductees with short descriptions of them on a wall in its building in Rockville. The wall is being remodeled, but the hall of fame is available online at benderjccgw.org/halloffame.

Michael Kay has chaired the selection committee since 1997. He said that the most enjoyable part of being on the committee has been hearing stories from previous generations in the early days of the hall of fame.

“The old timers were really my favorite because of all their stories and because of their strong opinions on newer inductees,” said Kay, who works in real estate. “They were very protective of who got inducted.”

Some of these stories were about Jewish boxers of the 1930s and 1940s. In that era, boxing was “one of the premier sports along with horseracing and baseball,” said Pollin, who was inducted into the hall of fame in 2001 for sports broadcasting.

Among the hall of fame’s eight inducted boxers are brothers Benny and Hotsy Alperstein. While both competed for the University of Maryland, Benny won NCAA lightweight and featherweight national championships and Hotsy went undefeated in all his collegiate bouts.

The hall of fame also includes successful minor league baseball players. Pollin explained that before Major League Baseball grew in the 1960s, there were only 16 major league teams, which resulted in  minor league players gaining more notoriety.

More recent high-profile inductees include hockey player Jeff Halpern, inducted in 2000, who was the first Washington-area native to make it into the National Hockey League and basketball player Brian Magid, who played for the Indiana Pacers and was inducted in 2003.

This year’s other inductees are swimmer Mitchell Berliner, baseball players Mike Herson and Steve Rubin, and track and field Olympian Sam Stoller.  This year’s winner of the Irene and Abe Pollin Humanitarian award is Jillian Copeland of Rockville, the former head of school of the Diener School in Potomac.

galtshuler@midatlanticmedia.com

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