If you have in any way been affiliated with youth sports in the tri-state area, as a coach, as a player, or simply a fan, chances are you've come to know Perry Kennedy Sr.
By Chapin Jewell
If you have in any way been affiliated with youth sports in the tri-state area, as a coach, as a player, or simply a fan, chances are you’ve come to know Perry Kennedy Sr.
In football and basketball in particular, Kennedy most certainly has been actively involved in youth sports circles for years.
A few years ago, Perry had a vision to not only improve local basketball in the area, but also to give local kids possible exposure to college coaches and scouts. As a result, the Potomac Valley Phenoms AAU basketball organization was birthed.
“In the beginning, three years ago, we decided to become an official AAU program because a few years prior to that, we just put teams together and played in a few tournaments. My main motivation for creating the Phenoms was that I wanted to give the kids who didn’t run track, play baseball or softball something to do during the spring and summer,” Kennedy explains.
That involvement with AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) was important, as it connected the Phenoms with the multi-sport organization that is dedicated exclusively to the promotion and development of youth sports and youth fitness programs. With over 700,00 members and 100,00 volunteers worldwide, the organizational structure and competitive opportunities AAU provides cannot be matched.
The AAU model fit perfectly with Perry’s vision to expose local, talented youth to college coaches and scouts.
“We have some good, hardworking kids from this area and I wanted to show people that our kids can compete with kids outside of the area, and they’ve done just that,” Perry explains.
Despite the fact that Perry is a Keyser resident and the Phenoms certainly have Keyser roots, it’s important for Perry that everyone understands this isn’t just a Keyser organization. The teams are open to area youths in the Potomac Valley of West Virginia and nearby parts of Maryland.
In fact, Perry would tell you that one of the best parts of the Phenoms’ organization is watching kids from throughout the region, and yes, opposing schools, compete together as teammates and brothers and sisters.
According to Perry, “These kids come together and gel as great teammates, all because of their love for the game of basketball. We haven’t had any issues with someone making troubles; we have great kids who become the best of friends on and off the court, and they love playing with each other.”
Just how diverse is the Phenoms organization? In 2019, the Phenoms had representation from 14 elementary and middle schools (Aurora Middle, Braddock Middle, Frankfort Intermediate, Frankfort Middle, Keyser Middle, Moorefield Middle, Mount Savage Middle, New Creek Primary, Romney Middle, Southern Middle, Union, Washington Middle, West Side Elementary and Westmar Middle) and nine high schools (Allegany, Fort Hill, Frankfort, Hampshire, Keyser, Moorefield, Petersburg, Southern and Union).
The Potomac Valley Phenoms organization has experienced explosive growth in just three years. In 2019, the Phenoms operated with 11 total teams (seven for boys, four for girls) made up from a total of 92 participating players.
“Our first year, we started with two teams but ended that AAU season with three teams. Year two, we filled eight teams. In this year, our third year, we had 11 teams with 92 total kids. I believe that this program is growing because we have some hardworking kids that want to get better and they’re spreading the word to their friends who have similar interests,” Perry explains.
With success and growth coming in such a short period of time, organizationally, there would be growing pains if not for an army of coaches, volunteers and parents. “This program has really taken off and it would not be possible without a lot of dedicated kids and parents, so I would love to thank them all for believing in the Phenoms program and sacrificing time and money for these kids to get better,” Perry stated.
The Phenoms operate organizationally under a board of directors that determines things like who will coach and what tournaments they will attend. The current board consists of Brian Toye (president), Walt Ward (vice president), Missy Clark (treasurer), James Washington (secretary), Ryan Kunis (gym coordinator), and Perry Kennedy Sr. (founder).
“I want to give a special thanks to Missy Clark for taking on the role as the ‘heartbeat’ behind the organization. She has taken care of the behind-the-scenes stuff that has kept this program going and I’m sure we would sink without her. Also, I want to thank all our coaches for stepping up and volunteering their valuable time to help our kids get better,” Perry explains.
According to Phenoms treasurer and “heartbeat” Missy Clark, “We got involved because my son, Jake, loves basketball and did not choose to play baseball in the spring but wanted to keep moving and continue to work on his skills. This was his third year on the team. This came to be the case with many in the area who just want to perfect their work and don’t participate in a Spring school sport or little league, etc.”
Clark further explains, “As more and more people became interested, and it grew, two years ago, we realized we needed to have a formal process so we created a board of directors, bylaws, rules in regards to maintaining a GPA, a set fee and really developed the program. We are AAU affiliated but don’t always play in just AAU tournaments.”
While it’s certainly a basketball organization, the Phenoms are interested in developing not just good basketball players, but good students and more importantly, good people.
“We emphasize how important grades are; they are to maintain an acceptable GPA and we talk about how important being a good person is. We hear from teachers and others in the schools sometimes if there is a kid not living up to what they need to be doing and we make sure they understand. It is about life lessons too,” Clark explains.
In 2019, the Phenoms participated in tournaments in Pittsburgh, Frederick, Winchester, Manheim, Morgantown, Ocean City and Washington (Pennsylvania). There were a significant number of successes on the court for the Phenoms, including eight separate tournament championships and nine second place finishes.
Tournament championships included: Frederick Frenzy (11th grade boys, sixth grade boys, fifth grade boys), Cougar Classic (varsity girls, eighth grade girls), Winchester (eighth grade girls), CBSA (eighth grade girls), BSA (sixth grade girls).
All in all, the competition has made the individual Phenoms players better, all 92 of them across the 11 teams. Participation through the Phenoms organization has gained valuable exposure for the players as well, which is something we will see paying dividends in the years to come.
More importantly, however, the Phenoms have taken an ever-growing crop of dedicated kids with a focus on basketball, and given them valuable life lessons, stressing the importance of being good students and good people first.
In three short years, the Phenoms have accomplished so much, and really, it’s an organization that’s still in its infancy. Based on their track record, it’s safe to say the sky is the limit as they continue to grow.