The Kenny Goldman Basketball League at the JCC honors this young man’s life and brings joy to the community.
Featured photo by Paul Katz
From tragedy to tradition.
That’s the story of the Kenny Goldman Basketball League, which has been a year-round staple at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield since 1984.
Hundreds of basketball players ages 4-25 play in the league during its fall, winter, spring and summer seasons, filling the JCC on Sundays.
Players in house and open divisions learn basketball fundamentals, play games, receive trophies and medals, and win championships.
Just as importantly, players, coaches and parents must abide by a code of ethics to keep the games fun and in a spirit of friendly competition and camaraderie.
Here’s one code requirement for players: “I will never yell at my teammates or blame them for mistakes or missed plays. I will refrain from boasting and trash talking to members of other teams. I will graciously accept defeat, and I will refrain from bragging when my team wins.”
Here’s one code requirement for coaches: “I will never argue with or complain about a referee’s calls or decision.”
Here’s one code requirement for parents: “I will not place a burden on my child to win games. I understand that the purpose of youth sports is to develop physical, mental and social skills.”
So, who was Kenny Goldman?
A young man who loved basketball, who played for hours with friends on his family’s driveway in Farmington Hills.
“Kenny was short and skinny, but at 10 years old he could shoot better than me from any distance,” said his brother, Arnie Goldman.
Kenny Goldman died July 21, 1982, at age 13, one day after he was injured in a car accident at 11 Mile and Inkster roads. He and his father were on their way home from attending a Detroit Tigers game at Tiger Stadium at the time of the accident.
Milt and Rochelle Goldman, Kenny’s parents, wanted to preserve their son’s memory.
Mort Plotnick, then the JCC director, suggested forming a basketball league in Kenny’s name. They liked Plotnick’s idea, founded the league and endowed it through the JCC’s Kenny Goldman Athletic Fund.
“Kenny died a few months after his bar mitzvah, and the emptiness was unbearable,” said Arnie Goldman. “But my parents persevered and started something that preserves Kenny’s memory and gives kids a chance to learn about and play something they love.”
Milt and Rochelle Goldman are now deceased, but the league they began to honor their son is as strong as ever.
Longtime league director Bruce Weinman said between 400-450 players on 40-45 teams will play in the winter season, which has age divisions for U7, U9, U11, U13 and U15 teams and a clinic for players ages 4 and 5.
Practices will be held Jan. 18-19 and games will begin Jan. 26. Playoff championships will be March 22.
Age divisions for U17, U20 and U25 players are normally offered during the spring and summer seasons.
Many personal stories are generational in a league that is 36 years old.
Take Paul Katz’s story, for example.
The 42-year-old West Bloomfield resident played in the Kenny Goldman Basketball League in the 1980s, and he’s now in his fourth year coaching his son in the league.
Katz said he practically lived at the JCC when he was growing up and the league was a big reason for the attraction.
“Playing in the league gave me an opportunity to play a team sport instead of doing things on my own,” he said. “I became friends with kids who are still friends of mine today.
“The league still gives kids a chance to meet kids from all over the area and play a great sport against kids of all skill levels.”
Katz recently came across a league shirt he wore when he played. The cotton shirt has been passed to his son Ami, 9.
“I found the shirt while going through things in the house, washed it, and my son now wears it,” he said.
Katz stopped playing in the league when he became middle school age and began playing school sports.
He was a football, basketball and baseball standout at Cranbrook-Kingswood High School in Bloomfield Hills before graduating in 1995.
He and his wife, Carri, have two other children, daughters Talia, 8, and Elliana, 6.