Fox Chapel’s Izzy Zober to compete on inaugural U12 Israeli national softball team

Tuesday, June 21, 2022 | 1:13 PM

Fox Chapel’s Izzy Zober and Franklin Regional’s Grace Stark are making softball history.

The Israel Softball Association is fielding its first 12U national team to compete in the European Massimo Romero Youth Tournament in August in Italy, and Zober, 11, and Stark, 10, are on the squad.

The ISA is the governing body that oversees softball in Israel. ISA executive director Ami Baran set a goal to expand the country’s reach in international play.

Yarone Zober, the father of Izzy Zober who was the Pittsburgh mayoral chief of staff from 2006-14, has helped fund the team and has sparked the efforts to get the team to play in Italy. He said Baran strives to have Israeli teams compete in the Olympics, and he has done an exceptional job in getting the team onto an international stage.

“Ami Baran is very interested in building a pipeline of Israeli and Jewish softball talent to be part of Israel softball culture that reaches from young ages, all the way up to adult ages, so that everybody can bond over their shared heritage, their shared religion and, of course, playing the sport that they love at very high levels on an international platform,” Yarone Zober said.

Yarone Zober and Baran had a limited amount of time to get a team together, but after Zober spread the word, the roster filled up. Players must have some form of Israeli or Jewish heritage.

The team rostered players from all over the United States, from California to New Jersey. Stark and Zober are the only Western Pennsylvania players. They team is planning to add three to five players from Israel as well.

The players will come together as a team for the first time in Italy. In the meantime, they have used Zoom to bring the teammates together.

“Zoom is bringing the world of 12U Israeli softball together with weekly calls where all the other players are on it, and the parents,” Zober said. “All the players can see each other and wave at each other.”

Team Israel is looking forward to bonding with one another in person soon.

“We’re going to have some real great bonding experience once we get to Italy,” Zober said. “We’re going to have a tour of Rome, and we’re gonna get to practice in the Italian Olympic training grounds, which Italy’s baseball-softball organization arranged for us.”

The team then will have four days together, competing in a tournament in Collecchio, Italy, which is in the region of Parma.

Izzy Zober, who is an Israeli citizen along with her father, is excited to play on the international stage in the tournament. She continues to practice and has worked with her hitting coaches and pitching coaches a lot more.

“I’m excited to represent Israel and the Jewish people doing something I love, which is softball,” she said.

Izzy Zober, who plays first base and pitcher, also plays for the Pittsburgh Power. She said she thinks it’s neat that she’s playing on the first 12U softball team from Israel. She is excited to don the blue and white.

“I’m just pumped to do this,” Zober said. “Like, I’m ready.”

Yarone Zober also is excited for Izzy. He knows how hard she’s worked to get to this moment, and he realizes the significance of this team.

“As a father, I am so proud of her and glad that she sees all of her hard work produce great results,” Zober said. “As a Jew and an Israeli citizen, I am even prouder that she will represent the blue and white with a Star of David on her sleeve.”

Stark also is excited to represent Team Israel.

“It’s a really good opportunity,” she said. “It’s really cool that I’ve been playing softball since I was 5, and now I’m here playing for Team Israel.”

The 10-year-old catcher also plays for Team Pennsylvania and the Harrison City Heat. Stark also plays 15U softball, which she believes helps her prepare for the international stage.

“It definitely pushes me because the pitchers are a lot bigger, and it builds my confidence as a player and a batter,” Stark said. “When I play catcher and I have to tag a girl out, it feels really good tagging out a girl that’s like three times my height.”

Her mother, Jennifer Stark, is extremely proud of her for not only her accomplishments on the field but also off the field.

“She not only is at the field everyday playing a game or practicing or taking a lesson but was able to get straight A’s her entire fifrth-grade year with a 100% in every class last semester,” Stark said. “Because of her hard work on the field, she has grown so much as a player.”

The ISA organized a fundraiser to help make the team a reality. Thus far, the Jewish National Fund USA raised $42,865 for Israel softball, setting a goal of $200,000.

The players from the U.S. are paying for their travel and their room, but Zober mentioned that fundraising is essential to cover tournament fees and other costs.

The fundraiser also is covering cost for players from Israel who might not have the funds to book the trip or have the proper equipment.

“This is the first time that there are going to be girls with a Star of David proudly displayed on their uniforms,” Yarone Zober said, “and to be able to say, ‘I represent Israel, and Israel has a place here in this game and in the world of international softball.’ ”

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