Kelsey Stevens first walked through the doors of our Dunlevy Milbank Center in 1963. He was 12 years old at the time, and he’d come to check out the basketball program and try out for the team.
For the rest of his middle school and high school years, Kelsey became a star point guard for the Milbank Flyers. He also developed into a mature young man under the leadership of his coach, Roger “Buster” Bryant. His first leg with Children’s Aid culminated with him earning a basketball scholarship to play for the Savannah State Tigers in Georgia.
“I remember Coach Bryant so well,” Kelsey said. “He inspired us to become great student athletes. He had a calmness about him. He was always ready to share his wisdom with us. And he even cooked health meals for us there at the center. He was a like a first father to many of us and a second father to the rest of us.”
After graduating from Savannah State, Kelsey set out to have the same impact on young people that his mentor had had on him. He was hired as a recreation specialist at our Frederick Douglass Center in 1973 and began coaching kids in just about every sport, from basketball to track to tennis to flag football to volleyball.
Drawing from his mentors and from his own experience, Kelsey has consistently encouraged our young people to prioritize their studies over their sports. The title of an early program he ran put it plainly: “Study Now, Play Later.”
“It was simple: If you didn’t study like you were supposed to, you couldn’t play,” Kelsey said. “Our thinking was always that we could train these young people to be great students and great athletes and help them go away to college on a scholarship so that their parents wouldn’t have to pay.”
And that strategy has proved to be extremely powerful over the years. Kelsey has helped our young people earn scholarships to colleges and universities like St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova, Fordham, and Howard. One young woman even went on to play in the WNBA.
Stevens is just as proud of the youth whom he’s watched become successful professionals in their chosen fields.
“It’s really special when you see how many of them have become educators,” Kelsey said. “It makes me think that we had that marriage between academics and sports in good balance.”
As he has advanced in his career at Children’s Aid, where he now serves at the Director of Sports, Recreation, and Fitness, he has designed and developed programs to keep people of all ages active and healthy.
He started a Sports Management Program in 2002, and it continues today, helping many high school students find a college major. He also began a Progressive Development Fitness program at the Frederick Douglass Center in 2005 to serve the community and encourage participants to train for an annual two-mile walk, jog, or run around Central Park.
He’s also been the head coach of our girls’ basketball teams. And through the years, those teams have enjoyed enormous success on the court. For a period of three years in the late 1990s, the Milbank Flyers girls basketball team didn’t lose a single game.
“What I’m most proud of with those teams now is how many of them are working in great careers,” Kelsey said. “They’re working for CBS or the Nets or Madison Square Garden. They turned their passion for sports into lifelong professional success.”
Kelsey has been at Children’s Aid for long enough now that he’s coached multiple generations within one family.
“It makes me so happy when someone I used to coach brings their kids back to our program,” he said. “It makes me feel like they really understand what we’re doing at Milbank and at Children’s Aid. There’s no bigger honor than that – that someone would trust you with their child.”
Kelsey plans to retire in 2023 after serving 50 years with the agency. But until he hangs up the whistle, he plans to enjoy every last moment.
“I’m still having fun,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy this last year, and then I’ll be ready to hand it off to the next generation of student-athletes that grew up in Children’s Aid.