Bob Kenney covered seven Olympic Games as a longtime Philadelphia-area journalist. He worked a half-dozen Super Bowls and World Series, too, and his 45 years as the official scorer in the Philadelphia Phillies press box spanned three ballparks and a timespan that included the team’s infamous collapse in 1964, World Series championship in 1980, and its return to glory in 2008.
But Kenney was just as instrumental in helping others. A member of 14 different halls of fame, Kenney, among other things, was instrumental in making sure females received equal press coverage for high school sports during his long stay as sports editor of the Courier-Post.
Kenney passed away five years ago. But his memory lives on in his son, Ed, who hosted the 5th Annual Bob Kenney Scholarship Softball Tournament earlier this month at Cinnaminson’s Memorial Park.
“This would have been right up his alley,” Ed Kenney said. “He’d be sitting behind the backstop keeping score. He’d have a little reporter’s notebook, taking notes. In his retirement, he was the Riverside stat man; he’d email parents after games telling them how many yards or shots they took, how many points.
“I know he’s watching,” Kenney added. “I’m a spiritual person. But what I miss is the chance to see the look on his face. I’d like to see that, that would be cool. But I think he’d get a kick out of it.”
Since the scholarship bearing his name has been awarded to nearly 50 students in five years and raised nearly $10,000 in this year’s tournament alone, there’s no doubt Bob Kenney would be both proud and honored.
The idea for the tournament came up not long before Kenney died at the age of 80 in September of 2015.
“I asked him about doing a scholarship in his name, and whether he wanted it to go to (his hometown) Riverside kids or if we should open it up to everyone,” the younger Kenney said. “He said, ‘No no no. If you’re going to do it, anybody (should be eligible). That would be cool.’ Then he squeezed my hand (and said), ‘But don’t forget the Riverside kids.’”
Kenney makes sure at least one scholarship goes to a student from Riverside each year. The money is raised through the softball tournament, with teams contributing $250 to the scholarship through an entry fee.
Kenney receives nominations for scholarship recipients from coaches, teachers, guidance counselors and even umpires and officials. Each year, the winners have grown, from six in 2016, 10 in 2017 and 13 the following year.
Back in June, Kenney awarded 15 Bob Kenney Scholarships worth $500 each to local students. In a fitting tribute to his dad, Ed Kenney hosted this year’s awards banquet, which couldn’t be held indoors because of COVID-19, at Bob Kenney Field in Riverside on Father’s Day.
“It was really emotional,” Ed said.
The younger Kenney’s annual tribute in his father’s name was more than worthwhile when he received a text message the next day. It was from recent Cinnaminson High School graduate and valedictorian Abby McDonald.
McDonald, one of this year’s scholarship recipients, went back to the field a day later and sent Kenney a photo of the work she did to say thanks. McDonald bought mulch and flowers and dressed up the landscaping around the sign bearing Bob Kenney’s name.
“I’m like, yep, this is the kind of kid we wanted to give this award to, the kind that’s going to make a difference, that are going to be good people because of it,” Ed said. “To validate the choices is such a big deal for me.”
The younger Kenney, like his father, is a sports nut. A former sportswriter and current educator, he has coached just about every sport, from Little League to high school, including his sons’ teams, although he had some hesitation on doing the latter.
A conversation with his dad, just months before Bob Kenney passed away, nudged him in the right direction.
“You can’t do that,” the elder Kenney told his son. “You have too much to offer.”
“That’s not my fault,” Ed replied.
Bob Kenney laughed. “You know better,” he said.
“What’s your rationale behind that?” the son asked. “Why is it my fault that I know more than Billy’s dad and therefore I have to coach everybody in town?”
The father smiled. “If you have the ability to make a difference,” he said, “it’s your obligation to try.”
That saying — “If you have the ability to make a difference, it’s your obligation to try” — is on all of the T-shirts worn in the Bob Kenney Scholarship Softball Tournament and on the trophies given to the scholarship winners, too.
“It’s a really good message that my dad gave me and I follow that; I try to follow that all the time,” Ed said. “I’ve become a better person with that mantra, I really have. I teach CCD, I’m on the school board. I’ve become a better person with that in mind.
“‘If you have an ability to make a difference, it’s your obligation to try.’ My understanding is not everyone has the ability. So if you have it, you’ve got to use it.”
It’s a message passed on from father to son, and, each summer, to more than a dozen deserving scholar athletes, too, in memory of Bob Kenney.