Emotional Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey calls for change after CT shootings

The HeraldDecember 19, 2012 

— Winthrop men’s basketball coach Pat Kelsey found out about the Newtown school shooting Friday at a bus stop on the side of Interstate 77 in West Virginia.

The Eagles’ bus, taking Kelsey’s squad to a two-game stint in Ohio, had broken down.

Fifth-year senior Gideon Gamble was checking his Twitter feed while standing in line at a Burger King when he began seeing a trickle, then quickly a deluge of tweets about the shooting.

He told Kelsey.

“He was like, ‘That’s crazy. I can’t believe that,’” Gamble recounted Wednesday morning. “You could kind of tell that it bothered him a little bit.”

Five days later, Twitter was again buzzing – this time about Kelsey.

(See video & a transcript of his speech below.)

In an emotional news conference after the Eagles dropped a hard-fought 10-point loss to No. 7 ranked Ohio State Tuesday night, Winthrop’s coach touched on the Connecticut school shooting that had nagged him the entire weekend.

“I know this microphone’s powerful right now, because we’re playing the fourth-best team in the country,” Kelsey said in Columbus. “I’m not going to have a microphone like this the rest of the year – maybe the rest of my life.”

He then challenged the country to do something to stop tragedies like the one that killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“Parents, teachers, rabbis, priests, coaches ... everybody needs to step up,” said Kelsey, who has 4- and 5-year-old daughters. “This has to be a time for change.”

Wednesday, instead of preparing for Saturday’s game at Auburn, Kelsey was handling the media crush that followed the news conference. He made clear that he didn’t prepare the speech about the shooting.

“When I walked into the press conference I’d never seen so many cameras in my life,” he said on Wednesday. “All these people want to talk about is how we held Ohio State to 65 points, and ‘What was your scheme defensively?’ And I answered all the questions they had basketball-wise. But I felt, like, a calling when they asked ‘Do you have anything else?’ I thought, ‘I do have something else.’

“It’s all I could think about, and I don’t think I’m any different from any American, I couldn’t get it off my mind. We’re playing two big games against OU (Ohio University) and Ohio State, and we’re preparing our team but every down moment that’s all I could think about.

“It just makes you take a step back and you’re like, ‘Why? What’s wrong?’”

People across the country are praising Kelsey for using the opportunity after the Eagles’ loss against nationally ranked Ohio State to challenge political leaders and parents and others to “step up.”

Winthrop University President Anthony DiGiorgio said Wednesday morning he’s not at all surprised by Kelsey’s thoughtful remarks.

The 37-year-old rookie coach is mature, DiGiorgio said, and “beyond his years.”

“First and foremost, he’s a parent,” he said. “He filters life through being a parent.”

Kelsey’s call to the nation’s leaders to “step up” fits in with other high-profile basketball coaches who have spoken out on social issues, DiGiorgio said. They include Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski and the late UCLA coaching legend John Wooden.

Kelsey’s words, which quickly spread via Twitter, Facebook and other social media, followed Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim’s speech on Tuesday supporting stronger gun control.

It’s not uncommon, DiGiorgio said, for players and coaches to use their position to speak out about a cause.

“It is very impressive,” he said.

Winthrop is “perfectly fine” with the way Kelsey spoke out, DiGiorgio said, because the message was thoughtful and appropriate.

Tom Hickman, Winthrop athletic director, said Kelsey’s passion and commitment to family showed through in both his initial job interviews at Winthrop and in Tuesday night’s remarks.

DiGiorgio said Kelsey is “one to watch” because of his ability on the sidelines and “the intellectual and analytical structure behind the emotion.”

Kelsey didn’t necessarily argue for gun control, saying, “I’m not smart enough to know what needs to be done.” But he said change is needed.

Kelsey said Tuesday night he was “really lucky” that he would return to Rock Hill to his daughters, Ruthie and Caroline. He then used his platform to say it is incumbent upon political, social and religious leaders to address issues that lead to the kind of violence witnessed at Sandy Hook.

Dozens of news websites picked up Kelsey’s story on Wednesday.

USA Today, CBS Sports, Yahoo Sports, Sporting News and the Cleveland Plain Dealer have posted video and transcripts of his speech. The topic even briefly trended on Twitter, where it picked up steam and was disseminated widely.

South Carolina men’s basketball coach Frank Martin tweeted directly to Kelsey, saying: “Pat extremely proud of you, your words, and what you stand for.”

CBS Sports college basketball analyst Seth Davis chimed in too, tweeting: “When Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey said he knew he had a powerful microphone, I wonder if he realized just how powerful. Well played sir.”

The Winthrop coach apparently was aware that his remarks had gained national attention.

“It was just a dad, concerned about the future,” he told The Herald’s news partner, WSOC, Wednesday morning. “I just spoke from my heart.”

VIDEO: Kelsey talks with The Herald

TRANSCRIPT

Here’s the transcript of Kelsey’s presser, according to Cincinnati.com:

“The last thing I wanna say is I’m really, really lucky, ’cause I’m gonna get on an eight-hour bus ride, and I’m gonna arrive in Rock Hill, S.C., and I’m gonna walk into my house, and I’m gonna walk upstairs, and I’m gonna walk into two pink rooms, OK, with a 5-year-old and a 4-year-old laying in that pink room, with a bunch of teddy bears laying in that room.

“And I’m gonna give them the biggest hug and the biggest kiss I’ve ever given them. And there’s 20 families in Newtown, Conn., that are walking into a pink room with a bunch of teddy bears with nobody laying in those beds. And it’s tragic.

“And I don’t know what needs to be done. I’m not smart enough to know what needs to be done, OK? I know this country’s got issues. Is it a gun issue? Is it a mental illness issue? Or is it a society that has lost the fact, the understanding, that decent human values are important?

“And our leaders – I didn’t vote for President Obama. But you know what? He’s my president now. He’s my leader. I need him to step up. Mr. Boehner, the Speaker of the House, he’s a Xavier guy, he’s a Cincinnati guy, OK, he needs to step up.

“Parents, teachers, rabbis, priests, coaches, everybody needs to step up. This has to be a time for change. And I know this microphone’s powerful right now, because we’re playing the fourth-best team in the country. I’m not going to have a microphone like this the rest of the year, maybe the rest of my life.

“And I’m going to be an agent of change with the 13 young men I get to coach every day and the two little girls that I get to raise. But hopefully things start changing, because it’s really, really disappointing.

“I’m proud to grow up American. I’m proud to say I’m part of the greatest country ever. And that’s got to stay that way. And it’ll stay that way if we change. But we gotta change.”

VIDEO FROM PRESS CONFERENCE:

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