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December 01, 1989 - Image 59

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-12-01

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From the
littlest guys
on up,
and loves
the JCC's


Staff Writer


The shout from the
youngster in the
crowded lobby of the West
Bloomfield restaurant turn-
ed heads and earned a quick
"Who's that?" from the
youth's parents.
But it brought a warm
smile to the face of the man
who goes by that name.
To kids, he's just plain
Barry. To parents who have
seen him work his wonders,
he's Barry Bershad, the Pied
Piper of varsity basketball
at the Maple-Drake Jewish
Community Center.
For more than 25 years as
head coach, Bershad has
been weaving his spell:
transforming 15- and 16-
year-old boys — some of
whom are frustrated high
school-team members,
others who only have
dreamed of playing on such
squads — into competitive
cagers who enjoy playing
together and representing
their Center in the Detroit
area and elsewhere.
Bershad has done it all
those years on a strictly vol-
unteer basis and he's done it
by remaining a youngster.
"I'm a bit of kid," admits
Bershad. "If I have any tal-
ent, it's a way with kids.
"I can go into the gym and
can talk to a kid who's
shooting baskets and I can
maybe recruit him or help
"Kids know who I am and
will ask my advice —
sometimes about basketball,
sometimes about other
things." If there's a problem,
he knows about it and takes
steps to help.
"A kid is looking for so-
meone to believe in. And if
you teach a kid wrong, he
learns it wrong." And kids,
he says, can see through you
if you're not straight with
Curly haired and soft-
spoken, Bershad has taught
legions of high school
students at the. Center that
playing basketball can and
should be fun. He's done it so
well that the boys he used to
coach now are sending their

sons to him to learn the
same thing.
"He hasn't changed in 25
years," says Rick Gould, 41,
who played for Bershad on
Barry's first JCC varsity
squad in 1963-64. "Money's
not important to him; he
doesn't have a grand
lifestyle, but he's happy.
Some people need material
things, but with Barry, give
him the Center, give him a
little fun, give him the
younger guys to hang
around, and he's happy. And
if he can make them a little
bit better as players, as peo-
ple, well, so much the better.
"If they were to write an
article about him 20 years
from now, he'd be the same.
Everybody needs different
things. Who can say what's
wrong with his lifestyle? If
you don't have a lot, you
don't want a lot."
"I have a sort of unusual
lifestyle," acknowledges the
47-year-old coach, who lost
his mother a _ t age 10 and his
father some years later. "I'm
not married, never have
been, and the camp
(Michigama, where he was
athletic director 15 years,
until 1988) and the basket-
ball teams have brought a
lot of my 'family' to me.
"Most of my friends came
from the basketball teams."
Bershad gives credit for
helping him through the loss
of his mother to the late
Herman Fishman and his
brother Mickey, operators of
Camp Michigama, plus such
staff members as track coach
Elmer Swanson, football
coach John Thursby and
athlete Carl Baer. As a
camper between 1953-61,
Bershad recalls learning
"how to try. We weren't big
or fast and strong. But we
learned how to try, how to
And, too, Bershad learned
how to smile. "With my
parents dying, life was not
always A, B, C, D. I learned
you had to be nice. If you
smiled, the other kids and
their parents would invite
you over and let you stay
around." Smiling kept him
from being lonely, he says.
Today, "trying" and
"smiling" are fundamental
to Bershad's system. "The

Bershad prefers being a volunteer coach.

bait," he tells athletes,
"doesn't know how old you
are. It just bounces. It
doesn't know if you're big or
strong or weak.
• "If a kid can learn to try to
compete, he can make it, on
the basketball court, in
school and in life," says Ber-
shad, who's also been known
to tell a youngster at prac-
tice, "If you don't smile,
you're going to have to go
home. You're supposed to
have fun here."
Bershad says 50 percent of
today's coaches are in it for
the money. "I'm addicted to
coaching because I like the
kids' smiles.
"I've seen them cry, too.
And I like the butterflies in
the kids before a big game —
it means that the game
means something to them. It
means they know what it is
to win and appreciate what
it is to lose. If they haven't

won something, then the
thing is not important to
Bershad likes his unpaid
status. "That's why I've
lasted so long. A volunteer —
especially one who's been do-
ing it for over 25 years — is
hard to replace."
Although the Wayne State
University graduate was
head coach at Roeper High
School in Bloomfield Hills
two years and was junior
varsity coach at Birm-
ingham Groves for one sea-
son, he found he liked vol-
unteer coaching much
"I really don't like the
parents' interaction," he
says. "At the Center, I deal
with the kids, I don't have
the parents" trying to dic-
tate which kid should play
and how the team should be
run. And he hasn't had to be



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