Legacy lives on
By Josh Naud
If you’ve ever taken a trip around the track, or been to the gym for any reason, you’ve seen his name in giant letters across the wall: Kenyon Court.
The legendary coach, Jack Kenyon, made his mark long before most of us were even considering coming to Mount Royal. When Kenyon retired in 1994 from teaching math and coaching basketball after 33 years at the college, a lot of us were in grade three pre-occupied with playing pogs.
In October 2003, when Kenyon was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame, we were enjoying our first few full-time pay-cheques after graduating high school.
When Mount Royal officially dedicated Kenyon Court on Nov. 13, 2003, we were planning our 18th birthdays. Today, it’s probably fair to say that most of us who walk the halls these days know very little about the icon.
A trip into the Mount Royal Archives department turned up page after page of glowing praise for the coach. Such a storied career and life – he passed away in 1994 – is difficult to summarize, but we can at least briefly touch on the legacy he left through a career dedicated to his players and students.
John Charles (Jack) Kenyon started at Mount Royal as a student. In a 1953-54 MRC yearbook – it was called the Varshicom, which stood for varsity, high school, commercial – attached to a picture of a young-looking Kenyon, his entry reads: “A future oilman or chemical engineer, Jack has lived in Calgary 18 years. A graduate of Crescent Heights, this course should be a snap to him as he has brains as well as athletic prowess. Member of Senior Varsity Basketball team.”
In those days, Mount Royal had a two-year engineering transfer program, and many students went on to the University of Alberta or University of Oklahoma, said Janice Nermo of the MRU archives department. Kenyon actually did go on to the U of A and received a bachelor of science (honours) in mathematics and then a master of science in mathematics. This is about where the career predictions stopped lining up with the path he actually took.
He lectured at the University of Calgary from 1960-61, began teaching math at MRC in ’61, and started coaching the men’s basketball team in 1962. This would be the start of a decorated career, with Kenyon becoming Mount Royal’s winningest coach, posting a record of 198-26 until 1982 when he stopped coaching. Kenyon’s Cougars won 7 of 15 ACAC championships in that time; 22 of his players went on to play on the Canadian national team, 10 played pro in Europe and one made it to the NBA.
He coached the Canadian national men’s junior team from 1975-80, and the Alberta provincial team in 1984-85. He actually coached his son Jay on the Alberta team that won a National Championship silver medal. Jack’s wife, Joey, said that coaching his son in this tournament was the highlight of his career.
In 1988, he was also the assistant coach of the Calgary 88’s in the World Basketball League. By this time he had made a name for himself in the basketball community, and continued to help at various basketball camps and with the Cougars in different roles. In October 1988, he was awarded the Sport Builder Award from the Alberta Basketball Association.
While a great coach, those who knew him seem to have thought of him as an equally great teacher. In 1989, he received a Distinguished Faculty/Teaching award. Here’s an excerpt from the write-up in the May 11 edition of the MRC News, which was a staff/faculty newsletter: “‘Coaching is just a more intimate form of teaching,’ said Kenyon. ‘I try to teach the fundamental skills (both mathematics and basketball have a lot of them), encourage students to execute those skills quickly and properly, and then use them creatively to solve the problems at hand.’”
And this is what Joey echoed when talking about Jack, that he always tried to keep things fun and exciting. She said that the Cougars adopted the Harlem Globetrotters’ theme song, “Sweet Georgia Brown,” and would dress up in red, white and blue outfits like the Globetrotter uniforms and burst onto the court through a paper banner the cheerleaders were holding, as a way to get the crowd into it. She said that while Jack was very competitive, he also strongly believed that sports should be fun and entertaining for everybody involved, from players to fans.
Joey said that one of Jack’s best qualities, both in the classroom and on the court, was his honesty. He would help players to focus on the areas they excelled at, and used them in these areas to help serve a certain function on the team. In other words, if you couldn’t shoot, he’d tell you to pass. Joey said his players tended to appreciate that he wouldn’t give out undeserved praise, and this only made it worth that much more when he did handout positive feedback.
The naming of the court was one way to honour Jack – Joey said, “It was really an honour; I wish Jack had been here to see it” – but there are also two scholarships in his name, one for basketball players and one for excellence in math.
“Jack felt strongly that no matter what you did,” Joey said, “if you did it well you should be recognized, and so he would be pleased [about the scholarships].”
When Jack died in 1994, the loss was certainly felt around the school and it seems especially in the math and athletics departments. A tribute article in memory of Jack ran in The Journal, Oct. 26, 1994. In it, Jean Springer, chairwoman of mathematics, is quoted as saying: “I guess the thing that comes to mind is his wit and a real love for what he did… When you needed encouragement you could go sit in Jack’s office – we laughed a lot.”
It seems like a lot of laughs, and a lot of national championships are what you could expect from Mr. Jack Kenyon. But this, of course, is only a part of the picture of Kenyon’s life. Those who knew him could share many stories and memories, it seems, but those of us who know him only by name will continue to wonder, and perhaps be inspired to think about what it might take to make a name that lives on long after we do.