COLUMBUS, Ohio – Moments after his team lost a basketball game, Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey spoke of a bigger loss.
The first-year coach of the Eagles gave an impassioned plea for government and private leaders to act soon to prevent further massacres such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last week that left 20 children and six adults dead at the school.
“The last thing I want to say is I’m really, really lucky, because I’m going to get on an eight-hour bus ride, and I’m going to arrive in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and I’m going to walk into my house, and I’m going to walk upstairs, and I’m going to 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,” he said, concluding his remarks in the wake of a 65-55 loss at No. 7 Ohio State.
“And I’m going to 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 said he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity, as a small, mid-major college coach, to reach a large audience with his emotional words.
“I know this microphone’s powerful right now, because we’re playing the (seventh)-best team in the country,” he said. “I’m not going to have a microphone like this the rest of the year, maybe the rest of my life.”
He said he didn’t have a solution. But that didn’t mean others shouldn’t pursue one – and quickly.
“I don’t know what needs to be done. I’m not smart enough to know what needs to be done, OK?” he said. “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?”
Kelsey called on political leaders to get past petty differences and accomplish something.
“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,” he said. “Mr. (John) Boehner, the Speaker of the House ... OK, he needs to step up.”
He also called for others to get involved and prevent a recurrence of the tragedy.
“Parents, teachers, rabbis, priests, coaches – everybody needs to step up. This has to be a time for change,” he said. “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.”
His voice rising, and with his eyes welling, he finished by saying, “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’ve got to change.”