JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli Softball Association wants to take its women’s team to the 2020 Olympics, and it is counting on some Jewish American talent to get it there.
Thirteen U.S. Jewish college students and recent graduates arrived in Israel at the beginning of the month to train as part of the 15-member national women’s softball team ahead of next week’s European Championships in the Czech Republic.
Two of them have Israeli parents and are already Israeli citizens. Last week the other 11 women, who each have at least one Jewish parent, requested Israeli citizenship and received their official national identity cards. The other two team members were culled from the Israeli junior softball league.
Tamara Statman of Phoenix, Arizona, graduated last month from the University of Arizona, where she pitched for the NCAA Division 1 Arizona Wildcats.
“They are playing because the absolutely love the sport” and not for college scholarships, she marveled.
And, she said, “You don’t have to speak the same language to play the same sport.”
Statman said that through practicing and traveling together the team has really “meshed together.” In fact, Statman knew several of the players from the Maccabiah team, from her high school and from university. Three of the coaches came from Arizona State. The team includes players from CAA Division 1 teams including Stanford, Northwestern and Indiana.
“I think our chances are really good,” she added.
This year’s European Championships are the start of the road to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The top six European teams earn the right to go to the WBSC Europe/Africa Softball Qualifying Event, which will be held next month in Utrecht, Netherlands, where they will also face the top two African teams and compete for one Olympic berth.
Twenty-three teams will compete in the European Championships, which begin on June 30. In the first three days of the tournament Israel is scheduled to play Ukraine, Turkey, Austria, Spain and Italy.
The Tokyo Olympics will be the first time since 2008 that softball has made an appearance in the Olympic Games, which is why Israel has jumped to build a “dream team,” Israeli Softball Association President Ami Baran told JTA.