The Rabbi Alexander Gross Hebrew Academy in Miami Beach has been dedicated to general education and Jewish studies for nearly 65 years.
But according to Dr. Roni Raab, head of school, in order to practice spiritually, “a healthy body is a prerequisite.”
Students, staff and members of the community gathered on the academy’s basketball court in front of what is soon to be the construction site of their first gymnasium.
The school managed the feat because of money raised and donations from alumni and the community.
“It is time that we make the appropriate steps to make sure our students take care of their physical side,” Raab said in his opening speech to the crowd.
Those steps are expected to lead the athletic department in a positive direction.
“We are really excited about the direction of the program,” said Craig Mankoff, Hebrew Academy athletic director. “I think that the gym will help us take our athletics to the next level.”
The athletic department has expanded from six to 12 varsity sports since Mankoff began three years ago at the roughly 600-student school.
With a growing athletic department, not having a gym of their own has been a challenge.
“Even our high school basketball team practices outdoors which is almost unheard of at that level,” Mankoff said. “The first time they get in the gym each year is our first game.”
The differences between the outdoor practice court and the indoor gym court has an affect on the athletes.
“Shooting in an outdoor court is a lot harder than an indoor court because of the wind,” said Bari Gordon, a senior, and member of the varsity basketball team. “You can feel the difference.”
Despite the circumstances, Mankoff said his teams are tough and have made the best of the situation.
“The stability of the new gym will allow us to compete with the better private schools in the county,” Mankoff said.
The new gym will also help improve the school as a whole.
“It will also be a very important recruitment tool for us,” Raab said. “It shows that we value a strong education, but that we also value the well-being of our students.”
The students view the new gym with a sense of pride.
“It does wonders for our school,” said Daniel Abramowitz, captain of the boys’ varsity basketball team. “People know we have a great education here, but now when they drive by our school they can say, ‘Wow, look at this school with this beautiful gym right on campus.’ ”
Construction on the new gym will begin Monday and should be completed by next fall.
A big reason Everglades entered Friday’s football game unbeaten can be explained by the way the Gators are playing the ball in the air.
They have nine interceptions, including three by senior strong safety Omar Hamouda, through the first three games.
Other defensive standouts are junior linebacker Wesley St. Ange and 6-6, 230-pound senior defensive end Alvonte Bell, a University of Kentucky recruit.
On offense, Everglades is led by senior quarterback Caleb Goldson and senior receiver Deandre Hallmon, a pair of “pleasant surprises, according to their coach, Rodney Rumph.