Youth Sports

Miami Heat honor Ahava Greenbaum, Bailey Koch, Tyler McCray, Eric Villanueva, Arella Zambrano

Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem congratulates (from left) Tyler McCray (Frank C. Martin K-8 International School), Eric Villanueva (John I. Smith K-8 Center), Bailey Koch (Falcon Cove Middle School), Arella Zambrano (Conchita Espinosa Academy) and Ahava Greenbaum (Hochberg Preparatory School) for being the January honorees of the Miami Heat-Miami Herald Academic & Sportsmanship Team Player program in conjunction with Gatorade. The standout student athletes were honored before the Heat’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the AmericanAirlines Arena.
Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem congratulates (from left) Tyler McCray (Frank C. Martin K-8 International School), Eric Villanueva (John I. Smith K-8 Center), Bailey Koch (Falcon Cove Middle School), Arella Zambrano (Conchita Espinosa Academy) and Ahava Greenbaum (Hochberg Preparatory School) for being the January honorees of the Miami Heat-Miami Herald Academic & Sportsmanship Team Player program in conjunction with Gatorade. The standout student athletes were honored before the Heat’s game against the Milwaukee Bucks at the AmericanAirlines Arena. Photo By Jim Varsallone

Hollywood’s Ahava Greenbaum (Hochberg Preparatory School), Hollywood’s Bailey Koch (Falcon Cove Middle School), Miami’s Tyler McCray (Frank C. Martin K-8 International School), Miami’s Eric Villanueva (John I. Smith K-8 Center) and Doral’s Arella Zambrano (Conchita Espinosa Academy) were honored on the court as the Miami Heat/Miami Herald January Academic/Sportsmanship Team Players in conjunction with Gatorade at the AmericanAirlines Arena.

Youth league coaches, team reps, school coaches, administrators, teachers and family members nominated South Florida recreational, travel league, elementary school, middle school or junior varsity basketball players who exhibit sportsmanship and display good grades or improvement in the classroom.

They were congratulated by Heat players Danny Granger and Udonis Haslem, Heat radio play-by-play broadcaster Mike Inglis and former Heat coach Ron Rothstein, before the game against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Each honoree received two game tickets, a Heat T-shirt and an award certificate.

Miami Herald Youth Sports Reporter Samantha Hahn video interviewed the honorees and parents and Leon Bichachi, the Senior Program Manager/Community Affairs for the Miami Heat.

YouTube jim varsallone (jimmyv3 channel)

(Hahn Intro)

(Leon Bichachi)

(Ahava & mom)

(Bailey & mom)

(Tyler & mom)

(Eric & dad)

(Arella & dad)

(Ahava on court)

(Honorees on court)

(Hahn Close)

About the honorees

Hollywood’s Ahava Greenbaum, 13, of Hochberg Preparatory School in North Miami Beach plays basketball for her school as well as the Michael Ann-Russell Jewish Community Center, also in North Miami Beach.

Her community service project, Wheels & Waves, was pioneered last year to fund-raise for Special Olympics Florida (special needs children/adults) and The Miami Heat Wheels, a non-profit wheelchair basketball organization.

Jeff Fogel, who has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), coaches Ahava’s girls’ travel basketball team -- Prime Time Mo Steel -- at the Michael-Ann Russell JCC.

Fogel said: “I have known Ahava for three years, after recruiting her to play for the MAR-JCC first girls’ Mo-Steel basketball team. I nominated Ahava for a Marc Sutton Sports Scholarship Fund Award. Marc Sutton loved sports, and he passed away at 9-years-old. His family set-up The Marc Sutton Sports Scholarship Fund at the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center (MAR-JCC) to provide sports scholarships to promising young athletes.

“When I nominated Ahava for a scholarship from this fund to play basketball, it was very meaningful to her as Marc was Ahava’s pre-school friend and her mom’s pre-school student. So, Ahava wanted to give back and help raise funds for the Marc Sutton Sports Scholarship Fund that gave her the chance to play basketball and become one of the key players on her team.”

The Points4Love music video she created is a fund-raising tool for any charitable cause. The concept started with her girls’ basketball team offering volunteer hours for every point the Miami Heat scored in the season. Hence the name: Points4Love.

Ahava helped coordinate the players/volunteers during the music video production of Points4Love. On the day of Wheels & Waves, she was the leader responsible for setting up, coordinating the volunteers, selling food and raffle tickets and distributing prizes. Ahava's project unites many communities and inspires others to get-off-the-sidelines to transform the world.

Fogel said: “I have known of her P4L project since its inception in April-May 2014.

“I also heard about her wanting to do something that combined what she loved -- basketball, special needs and music. So, she partnered with the Special Olympics organization, planned to do a swim competition event with special needs individuals, and she would coordinate wheelchair basketball tournaments on the same day and make it an all day event, called Wheels & Waves.”

The Wheels & Waves event served to unite communities, create awareness and call to action to donate to sports scholarships, special needs, spinal cord injuries, and ALS organizations.

Fogel said: “My ALS-Lou Gehrig's Disease has progressively worsened. Yet, I was inspired by wheelchair basketball tournaments that I wanted to be part of this. Ahava, her mom and I spearheaded the Wheels & Waves event together, getting sponsors, donations, basketball players and volunteers.”

Ahava also helped her mom out of bed after a car accident that broke parts of her spine and rib cage. Ahava is the type of person who wants to help people get back into the “game of life.”

Fogel said: “It is through difficult times that Ahava has developed strong family values and is willing to offer help and reach out to others. She looks to find connections and create inclusive communities.”

Her commitment is inspiring, elevating those around her to become better people in the world.

“Ahava has great compassion for people’s situations. She and her mom went to see the wheelchair basketball players and listened to their stories of having spinal cord injuries after being victims of gunshot or in car accidents, and listened to 7-year old cancer survivor who is learning to walk again, and she was inspired to do something about it.”

In May, Ahava received the Aventura Marketing Council Award of Excellence for having the most volunteer hours in her school (now more than 600 community service hours since June 2014). She pioneered her ‘Points4Love’ community service project that included creating a music video to help support charity and developed the first ‘Wheels & Waves’ event to support Special Olympics Florida (Miami-Dade County chapter) and Miami Heat Wheels wheelchair basketball sports scholarships. Many of the wheelchair players are victims of gunshot wounds or car accidents and use sports as a way to return to the game of life.

Fogel said: “Ahava has grown as a leader. In the three years that I've known her, she shows commitment, passion and perseverance to develop her skills to become the best that she can be in sports, school and life. She transforms the team to do its best and is willing to do more than what's asked to help her coaches whenever needed and to serve her community. She has high integrity, and she elevates her peers to follow her lead and to take on leadership roles. She regards the rights, feelings and abilities of others. She doesn’t let situations stop her from the bigger goal, and uses challenges to see what greatness that she has to bring forth to transform the world around her while inspiring others to live up to a higher standard. As Ahava matures more, I definitely see her as a future leader in the community.”

A standout student athlete, Ahava was the only one in her school to be nominated by one of her principals for the Diller Teen “Tikkun Olam“ Award. Students from across the country participate, and the award is $36,000 that can be used toward the students schooling or toward furthering their community service work in the world.

Andy Degen, Hochberg Preparatory School athletic director and coach, said: “Ahava is a leader in our school who has received straight A's since second grade and is the star of our middle school basketball and volleyball teams. In addition, she is playing travel basketball for Prime Time Sports at the [Michael-Ann Russell] JCC [in North Miami Beach] and organizes many charitable events. She recently set up a wheelchair basketball fundraiser at the JCC and spearheads a fundraiser for her Prime Time Sports coach, Jeff Fogel, who has ALS.”

Mrs. Weber, science teacher at Hochberg Preparatory, said: “Ahava is a dedicated team leader and brings out positive competitiveness in her teammates. She is an extremely focused and hard-working student who works diligently on all projects, labs and assignments. Her peers adore her, and I always look forward to having her in class.”

Dr. Linda Marks, Head of Hochberg Preparatory School, said: “We are so excited that Ahava has been selected for the [Miami Heat] Academic Sportsmanship Award. Not only is this young lady a great student and a star athlete, she is also kind, considerate and respectful of others. In other words, Ahava Greenbaum is a star in every way.”

Jim Roberts, Math Teacher, Algebra I, II at Hochberg Preparatory School, said: “I have been Ahava's teacher for the last three years, and she is a pleasure to have as a student. Ahava is caring and is always willing to help other students be as successful in the class as her. Ahava is in seventh grade and currently in Algebra II which is a high school class. She strives in my advanced class and has been able to handle the rough rigor of being a good student and active athlete.”

Sirena Buchholz, Exploratorium Director of STEM, Middle School Science, said: “Ahava is a leader in the class room as well as on the court. She truly shines academically and her effort should be commended. I have observed Ahava working with her peers and she always brings out the best in them. She incites a friendly competitive nature with her classmates that motivates and engages an enthusiastic learning experience.”

Jodi Snyder-Katz, M.S. Ed - Lower School Principal, said: “I have known Ahava for seven years, and she is an excellent student and a role model to her peers. She strives to do her best at everything she does and continuously gives back to her community is any way she can.”

Hollywood’s Bailey Koch, 14, is an eighth grader at Falcon Cove Middle School in Weston.

She was earning C’s and D’s until joining a basketball league which helped teach her to become disciplined on and off the court.

Joining the YMCA of Weston Basketball League, she was the only girl on the team, but that didn’t stop her. She excelled on the court and then started excelling off it.

Bailey earned A’s and B's in all her classes the last quarter last year. Her teachers were amazed with her improvement.

This school year, she has A’s in all her classes.

Stella Copulos Stringer, M.S.Ed., math teacher at Falcon Cove Middle School, said: “Bailey has demonstrated an amazing improvement in her mathematics skills over the past year. Bailey has always struggled in math, and therefore, she knows that it takes longer for her to study.

“Over the past two years, Bailey has also been attending my Afterschool Tutoring Program in which she has been one of the top attendees. Her consistent attendance demonstrates her dedication to improve her academic performance in mathematics. She also attends our tutoring assistance early in the morning before school in our Learning Lab. This shows tremendous maturity in understanding the importance of her education.

“One example this year of her tenacity to make an ‘A’ in math was when she didn’t score very high one test which dropped her grade to a ‘B.’ Bailey improved on the second test but was just short of an ‘A.’ Therefore, she completed an additional extra credit assignment to earn a ‘A.’ Also, in class she is always on task and the first one to respond to a question because she is prepared each and every day. Bailey is a true example of a student who demonstrates all of the character traits that will help her become a wonderful citizen in our society.”

For her hard work in the classroom, Bailey received a Kids Of Character Award from the school in December. On the court, she worked well with others and showed everyone what being a team player and having sportsmanship is about. That helped her self esteem, giving her what she needed to succeed in school.

Miami’s Tyler McCray, 11, is a fifth grader at Frank C. Martin K-8 International School in Miami.

Tyler is a polite, smart and hard working student athlete, who respects others and is respected by his coaches, teammates and teachers.

Coach Isaac Brown of Frank C. Martin K-8 International School said: “Tyler McCray exemplifies what it means to be a young scholar-athlete. This fifth grade Honor Roll student has worked diligently in school while participating in after school basketball programs at the Police Athletic League, Dibia Athletics, YMCA and Boys & Girls Club.

“At school, he demonstrates respect, leadership and concern for others. He is always prepared for class and eagerly participates in all activities. He is a member of Odyssey of the Mind, an international educational program that allows students to showcase their problem-solving and creative thinking skills. Additionally, he is eligible for membership in the National Junior Honor Society due to his continued achievement on the Principal’s and Superior Honor Roll.

“On the basketball court, he plays point guard and is a leading scorer. Tyler makes it a point to get his teammates involved, stating that, ‘We are a team, and it is always better when we work together.’ This year he returns to the role of team captain and has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches.

“Tyler is highly motivated, very personable and inspires others with his kindness. He also encourages others to do the right thing. When he is not playing basketball or in school, he likes to do community service projects, play video games, go to the beach, listen to music, and have fun with his family and friends. He is very deserving of this accolade.”

Dr. Minerva Santerre, teacher of the gifted at Frank C. Martin K-8 International Center, said: “I had the pleasure of being Tyler's teacher last year. He is an exceptional student with a heart of gold. He demonstrated compassion and empathy for all around him. He is a team player with no holes barred. He participated in the Odyssey of the Mind competition last year. The team had a problem that involved building an 8 1/2 inch structure by 3 1/2 inch structure. It had to hold minimally 60 pounds of weight. In order to accomplish this, teamwork was detrimental. Tyler was always there ready to add to critical thinking and creative application.

“In class, he perseveres as a student. When there is an obstacle in his learning, he strives to overcome it and succeeds. I truly think that that the journey for Tyler will be always successful because he has a heart to be a humble leader. I am proud to have had him as a student, and I know that one day, he will lead in whatever capacity is set before him. Blessings to him and know that he is appreciated for being a model student that he is.”

Miami’s Eric Villanueva, 9, is a third grader at John I. Smith K-8 Center in Doral. He competes in the Tamiami Basketball League/Recreational League and Thunder Basketball League.

Eric was selected for the all-star team in the Tamiami Basketball League. He also plays in the Thunder Basketball League. He loves basketball, especially the Miami Heat.

Eric is a responsible, smart, mature boy who always excels and does his best in school. He is in the Gifted program, achieving an ‘A’ average in all his classes during the 2013-14 school year.

Eric earned all A1A’s in his Gifted third grade classes on the first and second grading periods this school year.

Ms. Magda Loureiro, his teacher, said: “Amiable, respectful, inquisitive and genial are the words that come to my mind when I think of my student, Eric Villanueva. Either by chance or by design, I have been a witness to Eric’s growth from birth; since his parents and I have been friends for a long time.

“Ever since I can remember, Eric has been a kind-hearted, courteous and precocious child. His enthusiasm and motivation to learn are not limited to the classroom setting; they are embedded in who he is at all times. Eric is widely read on many topics; talk to him about dinosaurs, the universe, or the Everglades and you’ll learn a thing or two. He is passionate about playing basketball and baseball and loves conversing with his friends about his favorite sports teams and players.

“Eric is an independent, creative thinker, who doesn’t mind being different from the crowd; consistently demonstrating good judgment in making responsible decisions, in spite of his young years. This well-rounded, intellectual, athletic and kind-hearted student of mine will accomplish great things in his lifetime. I’m honored to have touched his life in a small way, and it is with much pride that I confirm that Eric Villanueva is one of a kind.”

Doral’s Arella Zambrano, 13, is an eighth grader at Conchita Espinosa Academy in Miami.

Arella displays sportsmanship and leadership. She is also a dedicated student and role model for her peers.

Carlos Salvat, athletic director of Conchita Espinosa Academy said Arella has been a student at the school since pre-primary, noting her athletic prowess.

Academically, Zambrano has maintained a near perfect record.

Carmen Santalo, a teacher at Conchita Espinosa Academy, said: “Arella is a responsible and mature young lady. She is a role model for her peers and a great help to her teachers. She always has a warm smile to share and a great commitment to excellence in all that she does.”

Arella is also an avid runner in local weekend 5Ks, and her hobbies include dancing and music.