McKinnon brothers to compete in international tourney in Israel

Burbank — Brothers Ian and Sam McKinnon are used to a little friendly competition.

As baseball players for Burbank High this past season, the brothers got a healthy dose of competition while helping lead the Bulldogs to their first Pacific League championship since 1991.

Ian, a recent graduate, and Sam, who will be a senior in the fall, will get a chance to compete against international competition when they take part in a tournament next month. The brothers have been selected as members of Team USA and will participate in the 19th World Maccabiah Games in Israel, July 18-30.

The Maccabiah Games are the third largest international sporting event in the world, after the Summer Olympics and the Pan Am Games. There will be more than 8,500 participants from 70 countries participating in various sports at this year's competition. More than 1,100 Jewish-American athletes and coaches are expected to comprise the American contingent.

"We had to actually go to tryouts in hopes of making the team," said Sam, who is a catcher. "They had tryouts here and also had them in Chicago and New York. I've always been confident in my baseball abilities, but competing against the guys that we did and not knowing the type of competition they were going to have in New York and Chicago was a bit intimidating.

"But after we got picked, it was a relief and I felt honored to be chosen."

Ian, an outfielder, also said he was humbled to be chosen to represent the United States in the games. But what he is most happy about is that he will be able to share the experience with his brother.

"It was really gratifying for me to be able to make the team," Ian said. "But when I found out that by brother made it as well, it made it all that more special. I don't know what would have happened if one of us didn't make it, maybe a little sibling rivalry."

At the games, athletes will participate in 31 sports. Members of the American teams come from 37 states, the District of Columbia and Israel. The games are always held in Israel and every Israeli citizen, and every Jew not an Israeli citizen, is eligible to compete in the games. The MacCabiah Games are viewed as an opportunity for Jewish athletes from around the world to convene in Israel for athletic competition and to explore the heritage of the historic Jewish homeland.

Along with the baseball competition, the brothers — who have never been to Israel — also said they are looking forward to experiencing the culture and the sights of the country. Team USA squads will arrive in Israel one to two weeks in advance of the games to participate in Israel Connect, a cultural and educational program.

Sam said it is in the week or two leading up to the games that the baseball team will first come together and begin practicing.

"I've always wanted to visit Israel and travel the country and see all the landmarks and the historic sites," said Ian, who is headed to the University of California and plans to try and walk on to the baseball team. "Being able to do that and play baseball on top of that, in an Olympic-style format, in just pretty incredible."

Said Sam: "The opportunity to represent and sponsor my country is something that a lot of people don't have the opportunity to do. I have always loved playing baseball and to be able to play on this kind of scale is pretty breathtaking."

Burbank baseball Coach Bob Hart has coached both the McKinnon brothers throughout their tenure with the Bulldogs. Hart said along with being accomplished baseball players, the brothers are also upstanding young men.

"This couldn't have happened to two nicer players and it couldn't have happened to two better kids," Hart said. "Those two kids are character guys all the way. They are the epitome of a student-athlete; high level academic commitment and just great ball players."

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