Nearly 1,000 young Jewish athletes participated May 6 in the Opening Ceremonies of the Mid-Atlantic Mini and Junior Maccabi Games at the Owings Mills Jewish Community Center.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Jr. Maccabi Games, with athletes — ages 9-12 — coming from New York to Virginia, including 170 from the Baltimore metropolitan area. Also attending the one-day, Olympic-style competition were approximately 200 coaches, 300 volunteers and 2,500 spectators from 19 JCCs.

Among the sports played in the competition were basketball, soccer, baseball, swimming and tennis. After the Opening Ceremonies, the athletes fanned out to eight area schools and sporting venues, including the JCC.

The games were started for younger athletes as a companion to the teen JCC Maccabi Games, which marks 36 years from Aug. 5-10 in Irvine, Calif., where about 6,000 youths ages 13-16 are expected to compete as well as participate in Maccabi ArtsFest.

“There are so few opportunities in the world today for Jewish kids to be with other Jewish kids and experience things in a Jewish context,” said Paul Lurie, chief operating office of the JCC of Greater Baltimore. “And being able to do it around something that kids are really passionate about — so the sports and arts are the context to bring kids together and have a day that really celebrates their Jewish heritage.”

“Just all the little things that are a part of a Jewish-only event, which you don’t get when you participate in other sports tournaments or events,” Lurie said. “For the kids, it’s a really fun opportunity to showcase, be with Jewish friends, meet new Jewish kids from all over the East Coast and share who they are.”

The 2018 Jr. and Mini Maccabi is co-chaired by Will Minkin, and Randy and Stacy Getz.