Play Ball!

On sandlots and in gymnasiums across the country, Jewish children learned valuable lessons about teamwork, strength and leadership.

In the 1920s and 1930s, local Jewish children learned to play baseball, tennis, basketball and football at the Jewish Community Center, high schools, and neighborhood playgrounds. Local businesses sponsored teams like Southwest’s Aztecs and Milton S. Kronheim, Sr.’s Bearcats, who played at 16th and Kennedy for 40 years.

Washington neighborhoods also turned out top-ranked Jewish boxers. From their childhood playgrounds, some Jewish Washingtonians went on to college and professional sports.

As Washington Jews rose to prominence in the community, the lure of owning a professional team attracted leading businessmen. Washington is the only city in the country in which Jewish families own three major sports franchises.

YMHA baseball, 1913

The Young Men’s Hebrew Association sponsored several sports teams, such as these baseball players in the city’s athletic leagues.

JHSGW Collections.

Snyder & Joe Gibbs

A successful businessman and lifelong fan of the Washington Redskins, Daniel Snyder, along with other family members and long-time investment partners, acquired the team in 1999. He was instrumental in making the team the most valuable sports franchise in the nation, as well as bringing legendary coach Joe Gibbs back to the Redskins’ sidelines.

© 2005, Washington Post. Photograph by Toni L. Sandys; reprinted with permission.

Lerner family at groundbreaking

Head of Lerner Enterprises, the area’s largest private real estate development company, Theodore N. Lerner, center, is the latest Jewish leader to acquire a professional sports team. The Washington Nationals brought baseball back to the District in 2005; the Lerners were granted ownership in May 2006. Three generations of Lerners, seen here at the stadium groundbreaking, are committed to building a winning tradition.

Courtesy of Mark Lerner. Photograph by Jay Westcott.

Pollin and player Wes Unseld

Real estate developers Irene and Abe Pollin purchased the Baltimore Bullets in 1964 after being alerted to the sale by former NBA referee Arnold Heft. The team moved to the Washington area in the 1970s. The Pollins opened the Verizon Center, home to the renamed Wizards, in 1997, revitalizing the downtown area. Here, Pollin and player Wes Unseld celebrate the team’s 1978 championship.

Courtesy NBAE/Getty Images.

YMHA baseball, 1913
Snyder & Joe Gibbs
Lerner family at groundbreaking
Pollin and player Wes Unseld