Winthrop University men’s basketball coach Pat Kelsey was in the national spotlight Tuesday night and used it to deliver an impassioned speech about last Friday’s fatal shootings of 26 people in a Connecticut elementary school.
“Parents, teachers, rabbis, priests, coaches ... everybody needs to step up,” said Kelsey, first-year coach of the Eagles. “This has to be a time for change.”
Kelsey’s team played Tuesday at fourth-ranked Ohio State, and that meant a large number of reporters was on hand for interviews after Winthrop’s 65-55 loss in Columbus, Ohio.
“I know this microphone’s powerful right now, because we’re playing the fourth-best team in the country,” Kelsey said, according to transcripts of his remarks from reporters on hand. “I’m not going to have a microphone like this the rest of the year – maybe the rest of my life.”
So Kelsey, who played high school and college basketball in Cincinnati, used his moments of national attention to address the killing of 20 young children in Newtown, Conn. By Wednesday morning, those remarks were gaining national attention. His comments were noted by nearly all the major national TV networks and on social media.
Kelsey’s remarks came on the same night that Syracuse University coach Jim Boeheim, who has 900 career victories, made a strong speech in favor of strengthening gun control.
Kelsey didn’t necessarily argue for gun control, saying, “I’m not smart enough to know what needs to be done.” But he said some type of change is needed.
After briefly discussing the game, in which the Eagles gave the heavily favored Buckeyes a tough game, Kelsey changed the topic.
“The last thing I want to say is I’m really, really lucky, because I’m gonna get on an eight-hour bus ride, and I’m gonna arrive in Rock Hill, South Carolina, 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 … with a bunch of teddy bears laying in that room,” Kelsey began.
“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.”
Kelsey paused, then picked up the intensity.
“I’m not smart enough to know what needs to be done,” he said. “I know this country has 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?”
Kelsey then told reporters that he didn’t vote for President Barack Obama in the recent election but Obama “is my leader.”
The Winthrop coach said it is time for Obama and House Speaker John Boehner – who, Kelsey mentioned, is a fellow Cincinnati native – “to step up.”
And he said he will work for change himself.
“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,” he said. “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. ... But we gotta change.”
When Kelsey’s team returned to Rock Hill about 6 a.m. Wednesday, reporters from WSOC-TV greeted him. The Winthrop coach apparently was aware that his remarks had gained national attention.
“It was just a dad, concerned about the future,” he told WSOC. “I just spoke from my heart.”
Syracuse’s Boeheim focused on gun control as the issue.
“If we cannot get the people who represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society,” he said. “If one person in this world – the NRA president, anybody – can tell me why we need assault weapons with 30 shots ... this is our fault if we don’t go out there and do something about this.” WSOC-TV contributed