Noel Muyskens knew deep down that only one organization could 100% preserve the mission and integrity of Westchester County’s nonprofit MVP Basketball Camp the way founder Stan Greene would have wanted it. That organization is Backyard Sports Cares, founded as a philanthropic wing of Backyard Sports by Danny Bernstein.
Just as Muyskens carried on the tradition when Greene fell ill in 2005 — he died four years later — he was determined to find a suitable successor. The MVP nonprofit will operate under BYSC, while continuing to maintain its own identity within the community and operating largely as usual under the same leadership and staff as it has in past summers.
Greene was a Scarsdale resident and Bernstein is a Scarsdale resident, and even though the camp takes place with its main campus at Highlands Middle School in White Plains and another in Rye, the unintentional lineage of keeping the program deep in its Scarsdale roots remains intact.
“I didn’t foresee the geographic connection, but it makes sense to me now,” Bernstein said. “I don’t think someone from the outside would have the intrinsic skills and mindset to keep it going the way a local organization can.”
When Greene retired from being a marketing executive in the early 1990s he was looking for something meaningful to occupy his time. He worked at a New York Knicks hoops camp and walked away not only feeling he could run a better camp, but disappointed that no scholarships were being granted to underserved children, which was something that prevented him from attending camps when he was a child. Against all odds he launched the camp in 1994 and it’s now served more than 25,000 campers and offered more than 7,500 full scholarships.
Stan’s wife, Gingie, a 1954 Scarsdale High School graduate, and his son Andy, have been on the board since Stan died, and are also stepping down knowing that Bernstein will take care of Stan’s camp, along with Muyskens, who will join the BYSC board.
“This is really Stan Greene’s baby,” Muyskens said. “I was a caretaker and now Danny is going to be the caretaker. Stan just created this out of thin air just because he believed so much in it.” He added, “Highlands is less than a mile from the Scarsdale boarder, so it’s always felt like a White Plains/Scarsdale endeavor.”
Bernstein called MVP a “basketball candy store,” saying, “It’s the kind of place everybody loves to go.” To have the “iconic” camp under the Backyard Sports umbrella is “a humbling affirmation of our values.”
“We are an organization that believes kids deserve access to play regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of their ability to pay for it, regardless of their gender and regardless of their ability,” Bernstein said. “And that’s why everybody loves MVP Basketball Camp.”
Bernstein, who officially launched Backyard Sports in 2006 after a career change, has been content to keep his programs thriving locally, never looking to expand beyond certain boundaries or even franchising his business. MVP keeps within his borders and sticks to the idea of “growing it organically.”
“We wanted to be the masters of our backyard here,” Bernstein said. “When Noel posed the idea of joining forces it was just so perfect. It was in our mindset because it was two organizations that share a mission coming together. I couldn’t picture the idea of MVP not continuing.
“I know there were other ideas, and people had different trajectories of where they wanted to take MVP, but I just thought where it was was so perfect. It’s an urban camp in a suburban setting, which literally brings people together. The idea of not having that available, I just couldn’t picture it.”
Despite having his own summer programs, Bernstein partnered with MVP years ago to help provide busing and scholarships to the camp, knowing how important it can be for some kids to get a change of scene.
“To take those kids out of those 4 square miles where they’ve never been out of and bring them to White Plains and to have them be part of a big summer camp with kids from vastly different backgrounds, that’s an even better experience,” Muyskens said.
Bernstein’s fundraising acumen and “large, vibrant board” always stood out for Muyskens.
“We basically had 300 kids coming in on scholarship, but largely funded through our ability to turn a profit on the main camp,” Muyskens said. “He was much more tuned in to fundraising opportunities. It seemed like there was incredible synergy, plus the missions we share. It had been evolving, but I think it was a good 2.5 years ago when I really went and pitched the idea to our board.”
Last summer was a challenge, as MVP was not only beginning its transition with Muyskens in semi-retirement, but with the COVID-19 pandemic. School facilities were shut down over the summer and although MVP was able to offer one program in Mamaroneck, most of the business model for the summer centered around sending coaches to the kids, just like Bernstein was doing in actually sending Backyard Sports and Backyard Sports Cares coaches into people’s backyards. MVP cleverly called it Home Court Advantage.
“The parents were really happy for their kids to have something to do, to get them out of the house for a couple of hours,” Muyskens said.
It also allowed the camp to employ as many longtime coaches and staff as possible.
Under the merger, former MVP coach from inception and longtime director John Nemsick will take over for Muyskens with Dillon Faulkner assisting him from the BYSC side.
“We as Backyard Sports would be stewards of their legacy,” Bernstein said. “Their staff is intact, their mission is intact — we wanted to create the foundation for them to keep going.”
While MVP is planning for a normal six-week summer in 2021, the leadership now knows other options are available in order to give kids an opportunity to remain active in a healthy environment.
“In the darkness of the pandemic this summer, it really brought people together to do a lot of partnering,” Bernstein said. “I think the pandemic made us better and stronger. We couldn’t rely on the same model to operate. It actually proved to be a great opportunity for the two organizations to come together, think together and really learn to trust each other. It really worked to our advantage.”
MVP grabbed some national spotlight recently when former camper and current NBA star Donovan Mitchell posted a photo of himself in his MVP Basketball Camp T-shirt on Instagram. The Elmsford native, who attended the camp in 2005 and 2006, wrapped up his third season playing for the Utah Jazz. It was Mitchell and teammate Rudy Gobert testing positive for COVID-19 on March 11 that led to the NBA suspending its season. When it picked up four months later, Mitchell was better than ever, scoring more than 50 points twice during the postseason in August.
According to the MVP website, “We won’t take any credit for making him the superstar that he is today with the Utah Jazz; that’s all talent and hard work. We are proud that he chose to use this photo in a recent Instagram post for the NBA and its 50 million followers. We look forward to him wearing another MVP shirt (trophy) in the near future. Might you expect to see Donovan next summer at MVP Basketball Camp? Only time will tell.”
The classic MVP T-shirts can be seen all over Westchester County throughout the year, and although the board toyed with updating the logo at some point, they thought better of it upon seeing new designs. “It’s like an iconic thing,” Muyskens said.
The logo, the camp and the legacy.