Coach Finds Purpose with Day School Kids

Kenny Myers is a favorite among campers at Gan Israel Camps of Philadelphia. “Coach Kenny” was a high school basketball standout, but he’s well-versed in many sports, including hockey. | Gan Israel Camps of Philadelphia

To be clear, Kenny Myers is not Jewish. Sure, he works at a Jewish summer camp. And at a Jewish school. But Myers, who was raised Christian, fashions himself a “spiritual” person, not beholden to a specific religion’s rules and regulations.

That hasn’t stopped him from becoming a popular figure in the local Orthodox community, where he’s revered for his commitment to working with children of all ages. Myers, who is African-American, is coming up on his 14th year as athletic director at the Caskey Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia in Wynnewood.   

“I’ve truly found my purpose,” said Myers, who is called “Coach Kenny.” “My background is in athletics and I’ve always loved working with children, and there’s a grace I feel when I work with these kids.”

Myers was a standout basketball player at Harriton High School in Bryn Mawr. He said many of his peers growing up were Jewish, and from an early age he developed an appreciation of the faith.

Before he moved into the physical education field, Myers worked in the fashion industry as an assistant buyer and sales associate for about 11 years. His dream, he said, was to open his own store.

But as his 30th birthday neared, Myers had an epiphany. He was passionate about fashion, yes, but felt unfulfilled. What was his purpose? He embarked on a path of self-discovery, devouring books on Buddhism, Judaism and other religions. He realized that the best path for him was a spiritual one, where he has a personal relationship with God.

“That’s when things started falling into place,” Myers said.

He started working part-time at Camp Gan Israel and quickly took a liking to the work. Soon, he was promoted to be the camp’s athletic director and his responsibilities in fashion waned. Eventually, he got a job at a Catholic school, where he taught physical education during the school year before returning to Gan Israel for summers.

Gan Israel Camp Director Rabbi Zalman Gerber said Myers is “in tune” with the campers and particularly sensitive to the needs of those with less athletic experience. He hosts skills clinics to even the playing field and, during baseball games, outfielders cheer on the opposing team’s batter.

“You don’t need to step on one person to feel taller,” Gerber said. “He is completely on board with this message.”

One afternoon at Gan Israel, Myers was approached by the father of a camper. Impressed by Myers’ work, the father asked him if he was interested in an opening at Caskey; his wife was a member of the school’s board of directors, he said, and could help Myers through the process.

“Once he said, ‘My wife is on the board,’ I knew something was going to happen. God had sent this man into my life,” Myers said.

His run at Caskey has been a hit. He teaches students as young as 3, playfully chasing after them while blaring music from Uncle Moishy and the Mitzvah Men. He often joins his eighth-graders for pickup sports games.

“They like the competitiveness,” Myers said.

Myers practices what he preaches. He eats healthy and exercises daily, so as to model good behavior for his students. But he wants his lessons to expand past the gym.

“I use sports to teach life skills. That’s really what this is about,” he said. “I have a saying: ‘Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but you always win with your attitude.’”

He implements a theme for every school year. This year it is chesed, which calls for love and kindness among people. In Myers’ eyes, that translates in the world of sports to being a good teammate

Myers, a frequent attendee of his students’ Bar Mitzvahs, said he harbors a special connection with his students, regardless of their differences in faith.

“We share same the spiritual and family values,” he said.

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