The fourth in a series of articles on Chabad-Lubavitch summer camps.

For 17 summers now, the energetic and affable Kenny Myers has coached at the Chabad-run Camp Gan Israel in Collegeville, Pa., where he is now the sports director. During the rest of the year, the 46-year-old father of two serves as athletic director at Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia in Wynnewood, Pa., where he has worked for the past decade.

Myers—or “Coach Kenny,” as he is known to kids and parents alike—oversees camp activities for 200 to 350 boys and girls from kindergarten through sixth grade. He coaches several sports there, including baseball, soccer, street hockey, football and basketball. The camp is run by Rabbi Zalman and Miriam Gerber of Chabad of Penn Wynne in Wynnewood.

“Coach Kenny has been one of our star staff members for many years, and his enthusiasm is contagious,” says Rabbi Gerber. “He really understands and lives the core Gan Israel values of sportsmanship and concern for others. He’s also a spiritual person and is happy to play a part in inspiring children to live more meaningful lives.”

Q: First, a bit about yourself. What is your background, and how did you get into coaching?

A: I grew up in Penn Valley in Lower Merion Township. Everyone I knew was Jewish—my entire class, my best friend. There were very few minorities living there in the 1970s; there was my family and one other family I knew of.

I played basketball and baseball as a kid, but I became known as a basketball player, especially in high school. [At 6”1’ and a standout player], I had opportunities to play afterwards, but went to college [in Boca Raton, Fla.], where I co-developed a basketball league, also playing in basketball leagues when back in Philadelphia.

Myers says sports are not required at camp, but are encouraged. “I want the kids to have a good time, and learn and grow. That’s the most important thing.”
Myers says sports are not required at camp, but are encouraged. “I want the kids to have a good time, and learn and grow. That’s the most important thing.”

When I was 31, I had another opportunity to enter professional basketball and showcase my skills. I was in shape and still very athletic, but this was completely different than high school. It was so competitive, mentally as well as physically. And as competitive as I was, I realized I wasn’t that competitive. It was too intense; it just wasn’t fun anymore. I wanted something else.

Q: What do you like best about coaching kids, particularly right now at camp?

A: I love going back to camp, and seeing the kids grow and develop. Sports has always been my passion, and I’m blessed to give back my passion to the community. Sports is a platform to teach what’s really important—core values like character development.

In fact, when I first started coaching at Stern Hebrew High School [now Kohelet Yeshiva High School in Merion Station, Pa.], I coached Jeremy Pressman, who today plays basketball professionally [for Beitar Jerusalem] in Israel. I saw he had it in him. I encouraged him. I can finally say I have no regrets, but I wanted him to do what I didn’t do. It’s nice; he visits when he’s in town.

Q: What is one of the main challenges you face when coaching?

A: Sometimes, when you’re dealing with really young kids, it’s getting them to focus more. It takes time, but they really do get it. In the end, it’s a beautiful thing.

Myers says that with really young kids, he works on getting them to focus more: “It takes time, but they really do get it.”
Myers says that with really young kids, he works on getting them to focus more: “It takes time, but they really do get it.”

Q: Can you describe a success story you’ve had at camp?

A: Not long after camp started this year, I was working with a camper who is legally blind. He loves baseball, is very passionate about it. But he struck out a couple of times and announced that he’d quit. I was trying to encourage him and asked what was wrong. He kept saying, “I can’t hit.” I just encouraged him to hang in there—that you’re not going to be successful every time you get up to the plate.

So he’s up at the plate again. I’m pitching; I pitch to all the kids. He has two strikes, and on the third pitch, he smacks the ball further than any kid in the whole camp.

Talk about instant gratification—just to see his face. All the kids were slapping him on the back and congratulating him. He’s one of the older kids, in fifth or sixth grade. It’s such a challenge for him to begin with since he’s legally blind. It was like G‑d saying, “I’m going to make it happen today; I’m not going to wait until tomorrow.” The rabbis were all there to see it, too.

Q: Do the boys always wear kipahs when they play, knowing that the kids come from the entire Jewish community?

A: Yes, they do wear them. I reinforce it. Sometimes, it’ll be in their pockets. But I always talk to them about wearing clips to secure them. If you hold it in your hand, it takes away from what you are trying to do [in the game.] It’s a big disadvantage. The boys get used to it though. The older they get, the more mature they are about wearing it.

“Sports has always been my passion, and I’m blessed to give back my passion to the community,” says 
the coach.
“Sports has always been my passion, and I’m blessed to give back my passion to the community,” says the coach.

Q: How do you encourage those who may not be as inclined to participate in sports?

A: There’s a lot of common ground between me and the kids. I always encourage children; I never believe in pressure. I give them the opportunity to come into the situation because success is much more likely that way. I make them feel welcome every time, and be supportive and encouraging.

Q: What do you get out of coaching?

A: It gives me joy. I live vicariously through them because I breathe sports. I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. At camp, sports are not required, but they are encouraged, and we get a good turnout. I want the kids to come to camp and have a good time, and learn and grow. That’s the most important thing. Trying to be better than you used to be—that’s the goal.

Q: Describe something about yourself that might surprise people who know you.

A: My career background is actually in fashion; I was very much into it. It was an industry that couldn’t be more different than what I do now. I worked as an assistant buyer for shoes at upscale stores; I even wanted to open a clothing store. In fact, I was working at a high-end clothing store when I was 31 and the scouts came looking for me again.

Q: Could you have ever imagined the course of your career?

A: Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be working for Jewish institutions, but we share the same values. We have a reverence for G‑d and a love of goodness. I consider myself a very spiritual person, and parents recognize that I come from a similar foundation. I’ve been to Shabbat dinners, to people’s homes, sometimes I drive their children back after sports practice ... it’s all been extraordinary. It’s been special to be so welcomed in what can be a very protective and even insular environment.

For me, everything has come full-circle. When the opportunity arose to work with kids, it was also an opportunity to find my purpose.

To find a Jewish camp near you, visit the Camp Gan Israel directory here.

The first article in the summer-camp series, “Deaf Boys and Girls to Experience Summer Camp Steeped in Judaism,” can be viewed here.

The second article in the summer-camp series, “Bigger and Better Than Ever: California’s Camp Gan Yisroel West,” can be viewed here.

The third article in the summer-camp series, “Camp Gan Israel Russia: 25 Years of Historic Transformation,” can be viewed here.

Myers, in back, third from left, as a referee at a student-faculty basketball game at Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia in Wynnewood, Pa., where he works in the off-season as athletic director—the faculty won 24-19. (Photo: Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia)
Myers, in back, third from left, as a referee at a student-faculty basketball game at Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia in Wynnewood, Pa., where he works in the off-season as athletic director—the faculty won 24-19. (Photo: Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia)