A native of Cincinnati who helped Elder High School to a Division I State Championship, Kelsey is one of the brightest young coaches in college basketball. He served as an assistant under the late Skip Prosser at Wake Forest and then as associate head coach at Xavier, his alma mater, under Chris Mack.
His team gave a tremendous effort Tuesday night, going to toe-to-toe with No. 7 ranked Ohio State on its home floor just three nights after knocking off Ohio University down the road in Athens.
Kelsey knew he had people’s attention, if only for the night, and that it might be his one chance to share something that was on his heart following the tragic and senseless shooting in Newtown, Conn. this week.
“The last thing I want to say is I'm really, really lucky, because I'm gonna get on an eight-hour bus ride,” the 36-year-old Kelsey said, grabbing the microphone passionately.
“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 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.”
Kelsey’s eyes began to water and turn red as he poured out his heart to a room full of perfect strangers, and hopefully a country he felt desperately needed to hear his message.
“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.”
His voice fluctuated as a lump former in his throat. This was raw emotion. This was not some preconceived speech full of political agendas and holier-than-though rhetoric. This came straight from a man’s heart to a country that is still grasping to understand why 20 children, all between the ages of six and seven, are no longer with us.
“I don't know what needs to be done. I'm not smart enough to know what needs to be done,” Kelsey continued.
“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 (Barack) Obama, but you know what? He's my president now. He's my leader. I need him to step up. Mr. (John) Boehner, the Speaker of the House, he's a Xavier guy, he's a Cincinnati guy, OK, he needs to step up.”
Kelsey didn’t stop with politicians, because wasn’t trying to make this about Democrats or Republicans. He was trying to make this about us, Americans everywhere, in every city and in every walk of life.
“Parents, teachers, rabbis, priests, coaches, everybody needs to step up,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
By now Kelsey had captivated the attention of every reporter in that interview room, many of which were simply trying to get the quotes they needed to finish their story on deadline. He took one last deep breath before he finished his passionate speech and thanked everyone for giving him the chance to share what was on his heart.
“I'm proud to grow up American,” he said.
“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.”
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