For Benjamin Kay, basketball is much more than a game. It's a vehicle for positive change.
Kay, a member of the Philadelphia Mans Basketball League (PMBL), co-founded the PMBL Treasure Beach Jamaican Youth Basketball Camp, which engages underserved and underprivileged rural youth on the island's south coast. The children, who are primarily from fishing and farming communities, are provided with opportunities to attend individual and group clinics, shooting and skills competitions, team practices and games. But more than athletic prowess, the goal is to teach youth to translate the fundamentals and ideals behind the game into success in life.
"We use basketball to teach these kids how to work together as one," Kay says, referencing the camp's motto, "One Team, One Dream." "We show the kids how to communicate with others, to be respectful and to persevere past challenges."
These values are inspired by Kay's experiences as a student with Drexel's basketball program. Kay unwound from his rigorous studies as a business student by spending countless hours playing recreational basketball in the Daskalakis Athletic Center. Women's head coach Denise Dillon took notice and asked Kay to be a practice player — scrimmaging and working drills with the team — which he did for four years.
"While being around Coach Dillon and the women's basketball team, I learned that being conscientious about the little things, every day, makes a huge difference between winning and losing, both on and off the court," Kay says. "Coach Dillion truly cares about all of her players,and the way she treats her players is a first-class operation."
Creating social change on and off the court
Kay adds that "Drexel creates true student-athletes," who are encouraged and supported to excel academically and in athletics. It's a philosophy he brings to his job as the head men's basketball coach for Penn State Brandywine. With just one season under his belt, he has helped the team significantly raise its GPA and win its conference championship for the first time in 50 years.
The basketball camp, which occurs every August, has grown in just five years from welcoming about 150 campers to more than 700. It is free to the children and includes transportation, three meals a day and gear. This is all made possible through fundraised dollars and donations of goods and services, which Kay and the other camp organizers work year-round to secure.
“We use basketball to teach these kids how to work together as one.”
Ultimately, Kay says, "our goal is to keep growing and maybe even start more camps in other countries. If we have to build another court so we don't have to turn kids away, that's what we'll do."
Kay also helps engage NBA and NCAA officials and coaches, former and current Division I basketball players, and Philadelphia high school coaches in the camp. This includes drawing on his Drexel connections to bring a regular contingent of players from Drexel's women's basketball team so that the girls attending the camp have access to strong female role models in athletics.
"It did not take much convincing, and they have come back for multiple years," Kay says. "Having them there was truly a pleasure; they were all unbelievable with the kids."
Kay does his best to keep in touch with the children who attend the camp and mentor them, especially as they enter high school. The benefits of the relationships he forges are mutual.
Kay says, "At the end of a week of camp. they end up changing our lives more than we change theirs."