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Krav Maga popularity rising in Los Angeles Dojo

June 7, 2010 4 comments
 

Roy Elghanayan

Joey Seymour

By Joey Seymour

LOS ANGELES  — Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s is being overrun by a Nazi invasion. The 15,000 Jewish inhabitants of Bratislava are being harassed daily by brutal acts of anti-Semitism and will soon find themselves being sent to concentration camps. One resident, Imi Lichtenfeld who had been proficient in boxing and wrestling, develops a new way of defending himself against the Germans. He calls his fighting style, Krav Maga. In Hebrew, Krav means “combat” and Maga stands for “contact” or “touching.” Lichtenfeld begins to teach this method to others in Bratislava. However, it is not until 1948 when Israel becomes a state, that Krav Maga is studied on a wide scale.

Israel is young in 1948 and begins to establish her military. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are created to protect the state and Imi Lichtenfeld is named Chief Instructor of Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the Israel Defense Forces School of Combat Fitness. Recruits begin to learn the survival tactic which focuses on four main objectives:

  1. Counter attacking as soon as possible.
  2. Targeting attacks to the opponents most vulnerable points.
  3. Neutralizing the opponent as quickly as possible.
  4. Maintaining awareness of surroundings while engaged in combat with the goal of developing an escape route, keeping an eye out for further attackers and objects that could be used to defend or help attack.

Lichtenfeld served in the IDF for fifteen years all the while refining and retooling the art of Krav Maga with the intention of making it the best system for self defense in the world. Today, the IDF continues to utilize Krav Maga, while always looking to improve it. The technique is also being utilized in America by the FBI, various police squads (including the NYPD), SWAT, United States Special Operations, as well as being taught to the general public by highly skilled instructors such as Roy Elghanayan, founder of Krav Maga Los Angeles.

Imi Lichtenfeld died at the age of 88 in Netanya, Israel on January 9, 1998. Of his legacy, Elghanayan said, “He made life easy in many ways. He showed us the way to a safe life by founding Krav Maga. Krav Maga is a way of life and we need to be tested when it comes to survival.” 

Roy served as a member of IDF and is the only two-time Israel Krav Maga National Champion. “I first started Krav Maga back in 1993 In Israel. The style of my dojo in Israel was not only Krav Maga, but also Israeli Ju-Jitsu. Israeli Ju-Jitsu is a combination of updated Krav Maga and modern Ju-Jitsu. It is great for multiple attackers,” mentions Elghanayan.

He was named both Israeli and United States Chief Instructor of Authentic Krav Maga. Elghanayan has earned the highest possible ranking in Krav Maga, Black Belt DAN 3. “It took me 10 years to become a 1st degree Black Belt and also an instructor. Today I am a 3rd degree black belt,” stated Roy.  

There are seven levels one can attain:

Level 1: Boot Camp Training (White Belt)

Level 2: Basic Training Part One (Yellow Belt)

Level 3: Basic Training Part Two (Orange Belt)

Level 4: Intermediate Training (Green Belt)

Level 5: Advance Training Part One (Blue Belt)

Level 6: Advance Training Part Two (Brown Belt)

Level 7: Black belt Training (Black Belt) 

Roy began teaching in Los Angeles three years ago and says, “My ultimate goal in teaching Krav Maga is helping people believe in themselves by teaching them the real authentic Krav Maga. If I can make a change in one student’s life, that change will be the beginning of a new way of life.” 

Not only is Krav Maga gaining popularity among fans of martial arts, but it is widely regarded as a great fitness exercise and thus, many people are discovering Imi Lichtenfeld’s style of defense as a remarkable tool for getting in shape. On a recent episode of The Simpsons, the family travels to Israel and Bart is taught a tough, but humorous lesson in Krav Maga by a local girl working on her military service. Bart calls out for his assailant to “quit going for my groin.” As she continues to kick, she states, “No groin, no Krav Maga.”    

Roy Elghanayan is finding great success in his dojo. His classes are almost always full of eager students wanting to learn from the master. Ages range from young children to older adults. Roy even believes that Krav Maga is a useful tool for athletes to either utilize while on the playing field or during preparation, “First, it would help the athlete become more alert and aware of the surroundings. Secondly, with Krav Maga athletes can prepare themselves to be aggressive and defensive both mentally and physically.” One such athlete that is planning on utilizing Krav Maga on the football field is San Diego Charger, Antonio Garay.

When asked if he plans to teach in San Diego, Roy says, “San Diego would be a great place to do a seminar, I have yet to visit but I am always willing to introduce people to Krav Maga everywhere.”

 Krav Maga may not have the storied history of Asian martial arts, but it is a defensive art form that was born from necessity for Jewish survival and continues to embrace its importance through usage by many facets both in Israel and aboard. For more information on Roy Elghanayan and his dojo, visit http://kravmagasantamonica.wordpress.com/  

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Joey Seymour is a  sports historian and Author of “San Diego’s Finest Athletes: Five Exceptional Lives.” His book is now available through Sunbelt Publications at www.sunbeltbooks.com.

Contact Joey Seymour at joeyseymour1@aol.com

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Robert Breitbard was San Diego’s sports MVP

May 18, 2010 3 comments

Related story by Norman Greene

By Joey Seymour

Joey Seymour

SAN DIEGO — What was just a bunch of “junk in the garage” according to Bob Breitbard’s wife, Lillie, turned into the vast collection of San Diego sports memorabilia, which is housed today in the sixty thousand square foot Hall of Champions Museum in Balboa Park. Bob Breitbard loved collecting sports memorabilia, especially items from great champions who came from San Diego.

In 1946, while president of the California Linen Supply, Bob decided to follow his passion of sports by starting the Breitbard Athletic Foundation, which honors local high school athletes. Breitbard himself was a star football player at Hoover High School and later became their coach. The combination of Breitbard’s collection, the Athletic Foundation, and later the Breitbard Hall of Fame (honoring professional athletes from San Diego), created the San Diego Hall of Champions, the largest sports museum honoring a single city in the country. Whereas the museum is one of the many incredible museums in Balboa Park, Breitbard who passed away of natural causes on Monday, May 17, was an original.

Robert Breitbard was born on April 28, 1919 in San Diego and grew up a fan and participant of sports. He excelled in football while at Hoover High and was great friend with baseball legend, Ted Williams, who called Bob “knucklehead.” They graduated together in 1937. Their friendship would remain strong throughout their lives. Many of Ted’s items, trophies and game used equipment are on display at the Hall of Champions, despite a law suit in 2006 by members of Ted Williams’ family who attempted to have Ted’s 1949 MVP trophy returned to them. After graduating from Hoover High, Breitbard  went on to play football at San Diego State University. In 1945, he became SDSU’s fifth football coach. He would only coach the team for one year.

The desire to focus his life on bringing sports to San Diego escalated in 1966 when he built the San Diego Sports Arena and owned the buildings first professional team, The San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League. A year later, he purchased the 12th team to join the NBA for 1.75 million dollars. They would be given the moniker the Rockets due to San Diego’s budding space age industry and the city’s theme at the time, “a city in motion.” Unfortunately, and with much contention, the Gulls folded and the Rockets were sold to an investment firm in Houston, Texas for 5.6 million dollars. The Gulls would return in other forms playing for different minor leagues and under different ownership, but the loss of the Rockets was upsetting to many San Diegans, despite low attendance numbers and poor performance on the court. Breitbard always contended that he did not want to sell the team, but due to major tax hikes on the Arena, Breitbard could no longer operate either team.

After the Rockets left in 1971, Breitbard continued to focus his attention on the museum (which officially opened in 1961), the Athletic Foundation, and the Hall of Fame. He  was also a member of Tifereth Israel Synagogue giving much to San Diego’s Jewish Community. He also donated a great deal to the Sharp Hospital and Salk Institute while also sitting on the boards of the San Diego International Sports Council and San Diego Holiday Bowl. His efforts to persuade the Chargers to move from Los Angeles helped earn San Diego its NFL team in 1961 and his negotiations with Major League Baseball helped persuade the league to add the expansion Padres team in 1969.   

Al Kidd, President of the San Diego Hall of Champions posted a video tribute on the museum’s website saying, “Bob had a big heart and he put a lot of his resources both personally with time and finances into a lot of causes here in San Diego, but in the end, the number one cause was the Hall of Champions.”

Breitbard lost his beloved wife Lillie on November 24, 1997. The two of them, however, will always have seats at the Sports Arena. Loge section 24, Row 1, Seats 11 – 14 are always saved for Bob Breitbard and will continue to be.

The San Diego Hall of Fame honors great athletes from or who represented San Diego like Dan Fouts, Ted Williams, Maureen Connolly, Greg Louganis, Marcus Allen, Marshall Faulk, Archie Moore, and Tony Hawk. Today San Diegans mourn the city’s MVP, Bob Breitbard for all that he did and for the conviction and passion in which he did it.

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Joey Seymour is a  Sports Historian and Author of “San Diego’s Finest Athletes: Five Exceptional Lives,” now Available through Sunbelt Publications at www.sunbeltbooks.com.

Jewish Charger Antonio Garay strives to help bring San Diego a Super Bowl championship

January 13, 2010 7 comments

San Diego Charger Antonio Garay and sportswriter Joey Seymour.
Any question which one is which?

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Sometimes you’re not always going to get the best out of every situation, but you’re supposed to strive for the best and maximize your ability.” – Antonio Garay

By Joey Seymour

SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers are on the precipice of history this season. Not only are they the hottest team in the National Football League having won their last 11 games in a row, but there is an unfamiliar buzz around the Charger universe . . .  that “this” is the season. Even though the team has captured the AFC West title the previous three years, there was always some worry – some doubt – that the lightning bolts would fall once they left the comforts of competing in their lackluster division (and face mightier AFC foes in the playoffs). Unfortunately, those concerns came to fruition each season.[i] Yet, this year, with a healthy core team still intact having experienced the heartbreak of past playoff loses; the Chargers could very well bring San Diego its first major championship. If they do, they’ll do it with the aid of an exceptional talent recently added to the roster, defensive tackle, Antonio Garay.

Garay was traded to the Chargers in December, ironically by this weekend’s opponent, the New York Jets. At 6-4 and 330 pounds, Garay is an imposing figure with a surprising amount of speed and quickness. Antonio’s story is one that does not immediately interest those in the sports realm. He has never been caught-up in a scandal, he does not wear flashy clothes or perform overly dramatic celebrations after big plays, and he doesn’t take to the internet to broadcast himself 24 hours a day, seven days a week. However, dig a little deeper, and the tale of this incredibly unique athlete begins to surface.  And, it is one that could very well be just as interesting, for all the right reasons.

 Born on November 30, 1979, the first of three children for Marsha and Tony Garay, Antonio was brought into a family of incredible diversity and love. Marsha Garay is devoutly Jewish, who taught Antonio and his siblings, brother Daniel and sister Francesca, from an early age about their heritage and the importance of understanding their religion. Of his mom, Antonio stated, “My mom is very proud, knows where she came from, and respects everything about her religion. Every holiday we celebrated, she explained the importance [of them] to us. Even though I am diverse, first and foremost, I am Jewish. It’s a big part of myself and my family.” It is an ambition of Antonio’s to visit Israel soon and wrestle in the Maccabi Games.

His father’s side is a mainly Catholic family with a combination of Puerto Rican, Costa Rican, and Jamaican backgrounds. Marsha and Tony were both two sport athletes at Hofstra University in New York. Tony wrestled and played football and Marsha was a softball pitcher and captain of the tennis team. On a fateful afternoon, Marsha twisted her ankle while playing tennis and Tony came to her rescue, that event, according to Antonio, “is when the fairytale began.”

Tony had a minor stint in the NFL, playing for the Los Angeles Rams, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, and New York Jets, after being touted by sports writers as one of the best defensive linemen in the country in 1971.

“My father, he’s like my best friend. I was a kid [who] had support from two parents that were college educated and two sport athletes. I’ve been very fortunate. There were things that were done and said through their careers and they made sure to guide me to make sure I stayed on the straight and narrow.”

While growing up in the small town of Rahway, New Jersey, Antonio knew that he was going to be a football player from an early age. However, his Mom enrolled him in soccer. “My mom had me playing soccer. One of my biggest attributes is that I’m pretty fast. The last two games I’ve been running down on kick off’s. You don’t really see anyone my size running down. In soccer, I played left wing and right wing. Everyone used to be like, ‘who’s that big fat kid running?’” The fact was, Antonio was too big at his age to play in junior football, yet the passion for one day competing on an NFL field burned inside of him.

“My best friends used to have Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders [jerseys], for me, I never got into, wearing and supporting. The one person that I did like was Greg Lloyd. I never had posters up. I was never a super fan. When I was younger, I was [always] thinking about ‘who I was going to play for’ and ‘which one of these guys was going to be a teammate.’ I was always very goal oriented. I would write down [everything], ‘how many plays am I going to make this week?’ When I was younger, in order for me to get to college, I [had] to do well in school. I just became very goal oriented.”  

In high school, Garay was not only a dominant force on the football field (All-State and Blue Chip All-American), but a track star running the 100 and 200 yard races and throwing the javelin. However, it was his skills at wrestling that earned Antonio a great deal of praise and recognition.

Wrestling has been an institution in Garay family since 1955 when his uncle, Louie Garay, won the New Jersey state championship. Two years later, Carlos Garay, another uncle, finished second in the state and in 1966, Antonio’s father finished third. Antonio was the New Jersey state champion in his weight class, 275 pounds. He never lost a match during his high school years (1994 – 1998).

Beyond his athletic accomplishments, Garay maintained his goal of performing well in his classes. The strong support of both his parents in his competitive and educational endeavors fueled Antonio to succeed. He was offered scholarships from 25 different schools, but he elected to accept the offer from Boston College.

In Boston, Antonio continued to wrestle until Boston College dropped the wrestling program his senior year. He finished 4th in the NCAA championships during his sophomore year and remains the only NCAA All-American in Boston College history. It was also at Boston College when Garay’s seemingly inevitable path to the NFL began to waver after a few horrific injuries. During his junior year, in the first play of the first game of the season, Antonio sprained his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament). His season was over. The next year while playing against Notre Dame, Garay suffered a season ending spine injury.

Antonio could have utilized his degree and walked away from football and the risk of any further injury or focused on wrestling and competing in the Olympics. However, the NFL dream continued to push him to rehab, train harder, and focus on the upcoming 2003 National Football League draft.

On Sunday, April 27, 2003, the Cleveland Browns selected Antonio Garay in the sixth round of the NFL draft. The years of preparation, studying, focusing on school – and not being deterred by the pressures of youth and ignorance – led to that glorious moment. Garay was a Brown for two seasons (2003 – 2004). He tore his ACL in a game against the Baltimore Ravens and once again found himself on the mend. The inauspicious tag of, “injury prone” began to be attached to Antonio, yet, in 2005 he was signed to the Chicago Bears practice squad.

In 2006, during the Bears Super Bowl run, Antonio was active for seven games. Unfortunately, he was deactivated for the Super Bowl, which the Bears lost 29-17 to the Indianapolis Colts. In 2007, Garay was having an impressive season, and then on Thursday, December 6th, 2007 while playing against the Washington Redskins in prime time, Redskins Offensive Tackle, Chris Samuels made an illegal chop block that broke Antonio’s leg and shattered his ankle. Samuels was fined $12,500 for the hit and has been referred to by many in the league as “a dirty player.”

While discussing the injury, Antonio noted, “When I broke my leg, it was a chop block from Chris Samuels. I’ve broken my leg before; I knew right away it was broken. I knew I was going to have a journey ahead of me. Unfortunately, I was going into my free agent year and not many football teams are in the market for a D-Lineman with one leg.”

Antonio would spend all of 2008, essentially starting over again. Beyond rehabbing the leg and ankle, Garay had to find a way to drop the “injury prone” stigma that had seemingly become his legacy. He refused to let the dream die. He wanted to come back stronger, faster, and healthier than ever before.

“I was just real motivated. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I loved football. I knew I wanted to play football. I knew I had a lot more to give to football. Sometimes guys just stop, they feel like they’ve accomplished everything they could. Deep down inside, I felt like there was a lot left for me to accomplish. I heard a lot of people [over the] course of 12-13 months, ‘you had a good run, we’ll support you, but if you don’t get an opportunity, we’ll help you out.’ Some people felt I should get a job. Some people said ‘go back to school.’ In the back of my head, I knew I’d be cheating myself. If I wanted to play football, I [had] to make sure I devoted everything to football. It really was just kind of a mindset that I would will myself to get an opportunity, no matter the cost.”

Prior to the start of this season, Antonio was signed to the practice squad of the New York Jets, his home town team. Garay was thrilled that he’d be playing so close to home. “Over the last year I was out with a broken leg. I got very close with everyone, not that I wasn’t close before, but I’m saying, we were going to family events all the time, bat mitzvahs, bar mitzvahs. [While in College and with the Browns and Bears] I wasn’t able to go to all the family events. Being in New York, basically right over the bridge from everyone, it was accommodating for them and for me, to get to see them all the time. It was definitely a great thing; it was definitely something I will always remember.”

New York never called Antonio up from the practice squad and on December 9th, they traded him to San Diego. “Once I found out I was coming here, I knew I’d have a good opportunity. I have a pretty strong relationship with the coaching staff. Ron Rivera was my defensive coordinator in Chicago. Don Johnson was my D-line coach. For them just to want me here, the stars [have] aligned.”

So far this season, Garay has played in two games for the Chargers, having recorded an assisted tackle vs. Tennessee in week 16 and three tackles and an assisted tackle against the Redskins during the final game of the regular season. Regarding the match up this weekend against the Jets, Garay said, “They’re a talented team. When I was a part of the team, I was thinking, we were going to win the Super Bowl. Now I’m a Charger through and through. Now that is my mentality. We have one goal. We have to take three steps to it and this Sunday is the first step.”

Thirty members of the Garay crew will be in attendance at the game, “This is probably the most family and friends I’ve ever had at a game, it’ll make me feel like I’m at home. I’ve never played a professional game where I felt like I was at home. I’m pretty excited about going this weekend.”

As for the Chargers making it to Miami and Super Bowl XLIV, Antonio said, “Our chances are pretty good. Even though they’ve had some heartaches in the playoffs, that core group is still here. They’ve been together and had a chance to grow. They know what this city is expecting from them. Guys like me, who haven’t been in San Diego, can feed off everything. You can feed off the older guys and know that everyone has to carry their own weight. Anything can happen in the playoffs.”

For the 2010 season and beyond, Garay believes, “I’m in this for the long run. I don’t have a set number. Right now, I’m probably in the best shape of my life. My legs are fresh. My body is feeling good. Junior Seau is a perfect example. He was in this system and has continued on. I actually think I’m a lot better than some of these younger guys. Only time will tell. Right now, I’m just trying to take advantage of every moment. There will be certain moments that will lead up to that defining moment, that’s what I’m hoping for.”

“I like everything about [San Diego]. I like the people, the fans. Everyone is so personable. The organization itself, the guys on the team, everyone has made this a very easy transition for me. I think starting this week; it’s a sign of great things to come.”

Beyond football, Antonio is in the process of creating a foundation that will work with kids in his community to prepare them for college, by instructing them on all their options for continued education as well as providing a safe haven for studying and avoiding the dangerous pit falls that tend to detract students from achieving their fullest potential.

Finally, even though he is 100% committed to football at this moment, Antonio has not completely ruled out representing the United States in wrestling at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Garay still has a lot to prove to San Diego fans before he is mentioned alongside Sid Gilman and Ron Mix as the greatest Jewish Chargers, but he is certainly the prototypical role model for any student athlete with aspirations of finding success in their athletic field of play.

As we all cheer for Rivers, Tomlinson, Gates, Jackson, Sproles, Merriman, and yes, even Kaeding, this Sunday, keep an eye out for #71. He’ll have his hands full with the number one rushing team in the league, but let there be no doubt, Antonio Garay will leave it all on the field this weekend for himself, his family, his teammates, and every Charger fan counting on him and the team to bring the Lombardi Trophy home to San Diego.  

Connect with Antonio by visiting his Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/#/pages/Antonio-Garay/251498588675 


[i] 2004: The Chargers lost to the New York Jets in overtime, 20-17, after Nate Kaeding missed a game winning field goal from medium range, during Wild Card weekend. 2005: Did not make the playoffs. 2006: Lost to the Patriots 24-21, after Marlon McCree intercepted a Tom Brady pass and attempted to advance the ball. He was subsequently stripped by Patriots Wide Receiver, Troy Brown. The McCree turn over led to the go ahead Patriots score. Nate Kaeding missed a field goal that would have sent the divisional round game into overtime. 2007: Lost to the Patriots in the conference championship game 21-12. 2008: Lost to the Steelers, 35-24 in the divisional round.

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 Joey Seymour, Sports Historian and Author of “San Diego’s Finest Athletes: Five Exceptional Lives.” Now Available through Sunbelt Publications at www.sunbeltbooks.com.

Contact Joey Seymour at joeyseymour1@aol.com

Salita taken out in seventy-six seconds by the mighty Khan

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

By Joey Seymour

SAN CLEMENTE, California–It only took WBA Light Welterweight Champion, Amir “King” Khan seventy-six seconds to take out “Star of David” Dmitriy Salita this past Saturday night in a fight conducted in Newcastle, England.

Ten thousand spectators witnessed an overpowering performance by Khan, which was nothing short of remarkable. In a blink of an eye, Khan was raising his hands in victory as Salita was simply attempting to remember where he was. The loss is by far the worst suffered by Salita in his short professional career and is one that will certainly continue to sting.

Previous to this bout, Salita was undefeated. His record was an incredible 30-0-1 with 16 knockouts. The buzz around Salita was palpable. A full length documentary was made in 2007 entitled “Orthodox Stance.” HBO followed up with a documentary of its own and many in the Jewish community saw Salita’s rise as the return of the dominant Jewish boxer. However, the boxing world was not as quick to anoint Salita to the upper echelons of the sport, despite the media craze surrounding him, because he had yet to fight anyone of note. On Saturday night, Salita earned his first title shot and in a New York minute, learned that he still has quite a way to go to compete with those in his weight class which include not only Khan, but also Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao.

The question then becomes, why did Salita garner so much attention before actually breaking out? Why is Disney currently working on a movie about Salita’s life that is set to star rapper Eminem as Dmitriy? The plain answer is because his story is unique.

Not since the days of Abe “The Little Hebrew” Attell, Maxie Rosenbloom, and Max Baer to name just a few, has there been a Jewish boxer with so much promise and talent. Like his predecessors, Salita is Orthodox and strictly follows Orthodox rules, even refusing to fight during the Sabbath or any of the 70 Jewish holy days. His long time trainer and mentor, Jimmy O’Pharrow said of Dmitriy, “My gym is like a league of nations. I seen every kind of kid come through the doors, but I ain’t never seen one like this Dmitriy. Kid looks Russian, prays Jewish and fights black.”

Salita began working with Jimmy O (as he is affectionately known) when he was thirteen years old. His parents moved their family from Odessa, Ukraine in 1991 when Dmitriy was nine years old, due to an escalation of Jewish hate crimes in the region, and in an effort to provide a better life for their children (Dmitriy has a brother, Mikhail).

Things started out rough for the young Salita in America (whose actual name is Dmitriy Alexandrovich Lekhtman, he fights under his mother’s maiden name). He was picked on in school for not wearing the right clothes or fitting in. It was not until he stumbled into Jimmy O’Pharrow’s gym, Starrett City Boxing Club, that Dmitriy began to develop his identity and a feeling of self worth.

Even though hesitant at first, his parents (Aleksander and Lyudmila) began to notice the talent and passion that Dmitriy had for boxing. As an amateur, Salita won astonishing 59 matches, only losing 5. Yet, Salita’s worse loss came in January 1999, when his beloved mother lost her battle with breast cancer. After her death, Dmitriy went to Chabad of Flatbush every day to say Kaddish for her. He became a prominent member of the center in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. Today, Salita’s charity, Shield of David, donates funds to both the Chabad of Flatbush and the Starrett City Boxing Club.

At the center, he met several men who would assist in his career spiritually and monetarily. Israel Liberow, brother of the center’s Rabbi, has since become Salita’s spiritual advisor, traveling with him and being a member of his entourage, which has also included at times, Jewish reggae artist, Matisyahu. Bob Arum was Salita’s first promoter.

Arum told the Washington Post in 2002 that, “The fact that he’s Jewish is secondary to the fact that he’s the kind of Jewish kid that he is, with the story he has to tell. If he was an ordinary Jewish kid, we wouldn’t have made that kind of deal with him. He’s Jewish and an observant Jew. He came from an assimilated family in Odessa, and became involved in the ultra-Orthodox community. That makes him a potential attraction.”

Attraction came quickly for Dmitriy. He turned professional in the summer of 2001 at the age of 19. Word of his boxing prowess as well as strict faith and family story, not to mention his boy-ish good looks and charm, led to an onslaught of public interest, especially in the Jewish community. He backed up his praise by winning. In 2004, Salita signed Lou DiBella to be his new promoter and fought his first match in front of his home town fans in Brighton Beach, New York. His opponent, Ruben Galvan lost to Salita in the 8th round by unanimous decision.

In 2005, he won the North American Boxing Association Light Welterweight title, defeating Shawn Gallegos by TKO in the 9th round. Yet, it would take four more years before Salita earned his chance at a WBA title. In the mean time, he continued to fight, to win, and to build public intrigue, but he could not escape the fact that his opponents were merely average. Prior to his fight with Khan, Salita’s thirty-one opponents win average was a combined 49.3% (456); loss average of 47.5% (438), and a draw average of 3.3% (31). Even though Salita was enjoying a 30-0-1 record, many critics questioned his ability against a competitor the likes of Khan.

Now, with this difficult loss behind him, Dmitriy Salita has two paths, either fade into obscurity or overcome the defeat and come back faster, stronger, and more mentally prepared for the new level of fighter that he will be facing. A return to winning ways and a possible championship would be perfect for the Salita script. We’ll just have to wait and see if Hollywood gets its wish.

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Joey Seymour, Sports Historian and Author of “San Diego’s Finest Athletes: Five Exceptional Lives.” Now Available through Sunbelt Publications at www.sunbeltbooks.com.

Contact Joey Seymour at joeyseymour1@aol.com

However it went—and it went poorly—SDJA football playoff was one for history books

November 22, 2009 2 comments

SDJA Lions
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By Joey Seymour

SAN DIEGO–A typical gorgeous San Diego fall afternoon, on the campus of the San Diego Jewish Academy, the Lions football team is going through a few final drills before their game the next evening.

At first glance, there is no indication that the game will be the Lions first playoff game in school history. As the boys joke around with one another, you would be inclined to believe that the match vs. the Tri-City Christian Eagles is just another date on their schedule.

However, this game is not only the Lions first playoff appearance, but it is also the first American high school playoff game in which the entire team consists of only Jewish players.

I asked Lions head coach John Milisitz about the importance of the game to the school, “I would say the least, I don’t think a 12 has ever beat a 5 seed, not only that aspect, being our first year and the only Jewish football team in the county making the playoffs, not only the school, but for the Jewish community.”

The Lions have outdone themselves in every way during their inaugural season. They ended the season in third place out of the twenty teams in Division V. Yet, there was a great deal of doubt when the season began. Milisitz: “We started the year with 14 guys, we were worried. Within about a week we generated enough buzz, we were up to almost 30. Now, we’re down to about 24. Useable guys, I think we’re at 14 or 15, when you take out the freshmen that aren’t ready to play or sophomores that just aren’t ready. Most guys go both ways, but it’s a challenge, because we don’t have subs.”

The Lions came out roaring in their first game vs. Crean Lutheran South, winning 67-0. Not bad for a team in which half had never played football before. According to Milisitz, “When we first started this year, I only had five guys that played football before, most of my guys didn’t know how to put their leg pads in or strap on their shoulder pads, we had to start from scratch teaching the guys how to play football.”

After that first game, the Lions subsequently won 5 and only lost 2. They outscored their opponents 214 – 77, while recording an impressive four shut outs. The team’s defense is their backbone. Linebacker and team captain, Ricky Pemensky consistently laid out opposing quarterbacks with 19.5 sacks in eight games, fourth best in the state. Of the excitement on campus at SDJA, Pemensky said, “I’ve been here since kindergarten; this is my twelfth year, sports teams have never been like this. It’s really cool to see how we’ve progressed over the year.” On the other side of the ball, senior Joseph Mizrachi leads the offense at quarterback. He ended the regular season with 1,141 passing yards, 715 rushing yards, and 20 touchdowns. Mizrachi will need to be prepared for a shoot out with the pass-intensive Eagles team, but he is not worried. “Yeah, for sure, we’ve got a passing team also, we don’t utilize it too much, because I have to run around a lot more. We’ve got the big play ability that every other team has. I have no doubt in my mind,” said Mizrachi.

The Lions have been getting a great deal of publicity going into this game, mainly due to the history attached to it. When asked if there normally would be the kind of media attention, that SDJA is getting, Athletic Director, Charlie Wund said, “I think probably not, to be honest with you. I mean as far as small schools go – and there’s a bunch of them in San Diego that have 11 man football teams, the third place team in the conference with a 6-2 record wouldn’t get a lot of attention. I don’t think this game would be as exciting or draw as much attention unless it was us.”

Wund went on to say, “Our kids take great pride in being Jewish, but as far as their athletic accomplishments go, they don’t associate that to being Jewish. It’s never really a factor for them. They are football players. They’re high school players.”

Coach Milisitz stated, “It’s not as much specific athletes, as much as it is a Jewish school competing in football which is a physical sport and you know, you have the stereotype that Jewish guys are small and non-athletic. We’re actually good, very physical; we shut out four teams this year. We’re audible and call plays in Hebrew. We do a lot of different things that people aren’t ready for and we run a lot of different offenses and they are able to grasp so much, because these guys are so smart.”

Before the practice session concluded, the team knelt down together and had a serious moment. Understanding that there is a spotlight on them, each team captain took a few moments to speak about the enormity of the game. The team is focused and ready to compete in their first Saturday night game of the season (since they do not play on Friday nights, all of their games took place on Thursday afternoons this season). Even though they are just another high school competing in a playoff, the eyes of history are bearing down on them and they are ready to win, not just for their school, for themselves, but for the Jewish community as well, which will surely be in force at the game on Saturday night at El Camino High School.

** Follow up: The Lions were overpowered and outplayed by a bigger, faster, stronger, Eagles squad on Saturday night in their 51-12 loss. A few bright spots included the play of freshman backup quarterback, Micah Weinstein, who entered the game in the second quarter for Mizrachi and the consistent, full speed play of Ricky Pemensky even when the Lions were down 47 – 0. Both players will return in 2010.

SDJA will now have to begin preparing for next season, but they certainly had a fantastic and historic run in 2009.

**
Joey Seymour is a sports historian and author of San Diego’s Finest Athletes: Five Exceptional Lives,” now available through Sunbelt Publications at www.sunbeltbooks.com  Contact Joey Seymour at joeyseymour1@aol.com