Upping the Game

By Amanda Cleary Eastep

After a career coaching student-athletes at both the high school and college levels from the former DuSable High School to North Central College, Todd Kelly became head coach of Illinois Tech’s men’s basketball team. He says that he developed his passion for basketball and academia through his parents.

Todd Kelly

“I have been playing basketball since my father took me to the YMCA at the age of three every Saturday morning,” says Kelly. “Both my parents have master’s degrees. My mother worked for Chicago Public Schools for more than 35 years, and they taught my brother and me the value of an education. We had to have good grades if we were going to be in sports.”

Since arriving on campus in 2014 Kelly has helped to take his Scarlet Hawks far as a team, as varsity players, and as men who not only give back to their community but also form a more unified Illinois Tech community. The Scarlet Hawks regular season schedule begins November 15 with an away game against Anderson University.

In what ways does the team connect with and serve the local community?
Every Wednesday, two to three players provide homework help in math, science, and other subjects to children from kindergarten through high school at Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church. They have also distributed clothing and food during Thanksgiving and Christmas drives to help those in need.

In addition, team members have served as judges for the Chicago Housing Authority’s Easter Essay Contest and have conducted mock interviews at CHA youth job fairs to help prepare high school students to meet with employers looking to hire for summer jobs. It’s important for our guys to give back to the community. The kids see them as big-time athletes.

Todd Kelly

How do sports add to the Illinois Tech experience not just for players but also for the student body? How do you encourage attendance?
Sports give students a sense of school pride. Illinois Tech students are serious about their studies and put in several hours a day to that commitment. Basketball games—and other athletic competitions—provide a reason for students to take a break, be with friends, be loud, and have fun.

To encourage attendance, I organized a contest through the university’s Greek Council. Last year, each sorority and fraternity chose a certain home-game date, and then rallied their members to attend that game. The sorority or fraternity with the highest percentage of fans attending their designated game night won a $100 gift card. Two games are designated as Res Hall nights, and staff encourages attendance. Thanks to these initiatives, as well as the developing talent of the team, attendance more than doubled.

You often talk about training student athletes for the “next level,” meaning employment after college. Describe some ways in which that happens.
Introducing alumni to team members at events such as alumni games can help students find employment after college. Networking with alumni helped a few students find internships this past summer.

Another way to prepare student athletes for that next level is through our mentorship program. Each junior player is responsible for meeting weekly with a few of the freshmen players to discuss academics, challenges, and successes. The interaction builds team camaraderie as well as leadership skills for the mentors.

Also, being part of a diverse team prepares students for the work world where they must work with people from all backgrounds. They are learning not just to survive, but also to thrive.