A former assistant basketball coach at Abington Friends School credits longtime head coach Steve Chadwin for teaching him life lessons both on and off the court.
The phone rang out of the blue. I didn’t recognize the voice on the other end.
“Yo, this is Steve Chadwin.” At the time, I didn’t know Chadwin started most of his sentences with “Yo.”
“I’m the head basketball coach at the Abington Friends School and I’m looking for an assistant coach. I was given your name and wanted to know if you are interested.”
It was September 1992 and just a few weeks earlier, I had returned from helping coach the Philadelphia basketball team at what was then called the North American Maccabi Youth Games (now the JCC Maccabi Games) in Baltimore.
That spring I had attended tryouts for the Philly team on assignment for the now-defunct Jewish Times, where I served as news editor. Turned out I knew the coach, “Stormin’” Norman Millan. When I told him it looked like fun, he asked if I wanted to help. I said sure. I had played tons of pick-up hoops but knew nothing about organized basketball. My role on the Maccabi team was as a “tuchus-patter,” telling players what a great job they were doing.
So when Chadwin called, I was almost too shocked to respond but I managed to get some intelligible words out.
“Wow, I’m flattered,” I uttered. “But I can’t coach high school basketball. I really know nothing about it. You might as well ask me to come over and remove your kidney.”
“Well, my kidneys are fine,” he chuckled, “but I talked to Norm and told him I was looking for someone, and he recommended you. He said you were great with the kids. I can teach you X’s and O’s.”
So I went to the Hallowell Gymnasium on Abington Friends’ Jenkintown campus for a practice — and I was hooked. For the next five years, from 1993 to 98, I served as an assistant coach at AFS. Chadwin, known as “Chad” or “C”, was right. He taught me X’s and O’s, but he taught me so much more. He taught me that basketball is the greatest game in the world. He taught me about teamwork, achieving as a group as well as an individual. He taught me about coexistence, inclusion and responsibility. He taught me about preparation and adjustment. He taught me about planning your work and working your plan.
With Maccabi I was dealing, obviously, with all Jewish players. At AFS there were players of all ethnicities. A Quaker school, AFS preached diversity. Chadwin was the champion of this. He was not a screamer or a yeller, like so many coaches, but a teacher and educator. He treated everyone the same — with the utmost respect. He produced dozens of players who went on to play college and professional basketball. In his 35 years at AFS, Chadwin has accumulated just under 600 wins. In my five years, we lost a total of six Friends’ League games and won four league titles.
Once I began coaching at AFS, I became immersed in the game, going to high school, college and professional practices, coaching at basketball camps and attending coaching clinics whenever possible. I began to understand the game better and better. I discovered there was no better instructor or in-game coach — at any level — than Chadwin. He had an answer for everything. There could not have been a better mentor or person.
I was an assistant with Philadelphia Maccabi until 1998, when I took over as head coach. That same year, I became involved with Maccabi USA and six times (Mexico, Chile, Argentina and three times in Israel) served as head coach of USA Junior Maccabi teams. Basketball has enabled me to see almost 30 cities in North America and a good chunk of the world. My teams have had unprecedented success.
Over the past 20-plus years, due to my involvement with Maccabi, I have received a measure of notoriety in the basketball as well as the Jewish community. I am told I’ve had a positive impact on many Jewish teenagers and their families. I owe a great amount of this to Coach Chadwin. He taught me how to succeed as a coach.He changed my life and the lives of hundreds of others.
When his phone rang to inform him that he was being inducted into the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, he shouldn’t have been surprised. No one is more deserving.
Brian “Shifty” Schiff is a producer at Comcast SportsNet. He has been involved with Philadelphia JCC Maccabi basketball teams since 1992 and with Maccabi USA basketball since 1998.