Evan O'Kelly To Receive CoSIDA Rising Star Award
Evan O'Kelly recently finished his fourth year as director of communications at MSUB. He began his career as an intern in the GNAC office in Portland.
Evan O'Kelly recently finished his fourth year as director of communications at MSUB. He began his career as an intern in the GNAC office in Portland.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018
by Blake Timm, GNAC Assistant Commissioner

When he arrived at practice for the 2018 GNAC Basketball Championships with the Montana State Billings women’s basketball team, Evan O’Kelly looked a little too chill dressed in his hoodie, gym shorts and backwards hat.

He looked a bit out of place until longtime MSUB head coach Kevin Woodin walked into the Alaska Airlines Center in the same outfit. Suddenly, O’Kelly looked all the part of a team that had everything to gain and nothing to lose on a remarkable, unexpected trip with the Yellowjackets to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.

O’Kelly has been the perfect fit for MSUB’s 15 intercollegiate teams. Combine that with his attention to detail, writing ability, broadcasting prowess and work ethic and you have the makings of the 2018 recipient of the CoSIDA Rising Star Award. Simply put, O’Kelly is as much a part of the team as the star point guard or the starting goalkeeper.

“My women’s basketball program culture is very family oriented and it has been awesome to have Evan as part of our team at home and on the road this year,” Woodin said. “His passion for his job is incredible and his ability to get to know our student-athletes on a personal basis is unique. I definitely consider Evan a key component to our program’s success this year and in the past.”

At that practice, O’Kelly did the things that you would expect from a sports information director. He took video, sent out a few tweets and took care of some website updates. By the end of practice, though, he was right in the middle of it, helping with drills and going to the free throw line to decide if the team would have any conditioning. To their relief, the charity shot was good.

It is not just the high-performing teams that get all of his best efforts. He provides every program with that same first-class rate of service. “His involvement with each team is quite incredible and that has become apparent in how Evan is viewed in our department,” said MSUB head men’s soccer Coach Alex Balog. “He has managed to become an integral part of every MSUB sport. He cares so much about our student-athletes. There is passion and emotion in everything he does.”

O’Kelly has flourished in his four years at Billings, his first professional stop after three years learning under two of the Northwest’s sports information legends. The Portland native graduated from Linfield College, where he spent two seasons as a student assistant under longtime SID Kelly Bird. Upon graduation, O’Kelly ended up at the GNAC office where he interned for a year under the Northwest’s all-time statistical guru, Bob Guptill.

The combination of experiences has helped hone him into somebody who does it all well. Whether it is social media, video, statistics or more, O’Kelly’s work is an example of the right way to promote a program.

But O’Kelly’s shining quality, however, is the one that continues to be the basis for all good sports information professionals: writing. He is not just a good deadline writer, but a master craftsman when it comes to the feature story.

“The thing that separates Evan from a lot of other young professionals in our business, in my opinion, is that is he a great storyteller in both long and short-format mediums,” said Jeff Evans, director of athletic communications at Western Washington. “He is a fantastic writer, but also captures the simple information that is easy to share.”

That ability to communicate has resulted in increased success promoting the Yellowjackets locally and regionally, a fact that is not lost on his athletic director.

“Sports information personnel do not receive the credit they deserve and we are thrilled that his colleagues have also recognized the tremendous impact has had made in this profession and on our athletics program,” said Krista Montague. “Evan’s success is a combination of hard work, discipline, dedication and patience. We could not be more proud of him and his work.”

While many sports information types are content to stay in the public relations realm, O’Kelly has taken advantage of opportunities to expand his horizons. He advises MSUB’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and is in his first year of a three-year term on the NCAA Division II Baseball West Regional Advisory Committee. He has also served as the coordinator for the D2CCA Men’s Basketball All-West Region program.

In whatever role he is in, O’Kelly succeeds because of the passion he has not only for MSUB, but for sports and the student-athletes he works with.

That passion was readily apparent in the work he did to promote Alisha Breen. The Yellowjackets’ star forward sat out all of the 2016-17 season with a knee injury. Even before the season began, O’Kelly was passionate about her impact. “She’s better than she was before the injury. She’s done nothing but work her upper body,” he said. It was a bold prediction about someone who had been poised to become the GNAC Player of the Year.

And he was right. Picked to finish seventh in the GNAC, the Yellowjackets rolled through the GNAC Championships as the No. 4 seed, defeating Seattle Pacific in the final. The momentum continued through the West Regional, culminating with an upset of perennial GNAC power Alaska Anchorage to earn a spot in the Division II Elite Eight. Breen was named the GNAC Player of the Year, All-West Region and All-American. Evan was there every step of the way.

“Those are once-in-a-generation type players that have so much talent and All-America credentials, but the way Evan helped share her story and her success both on and off the court truly helped her win several awards,” Evans said.

At the end of the GNAC Championships, Breen was the last one off the floor. She shook hands with everyone thanking them for making the event such a great experience. Everyone except Evan O’Kelly. He got a big hug. Because that’s what you give a teammate after you win a championship.

ABOUT THE RISING STAR AWARD: Presented annually by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA), the Rising Star Award is awarded annually to a Division I and non-Division I member with 10 years of service or less whose work at their institution and service, dedication, energy and enthusiasm to the profession make that individual a "rising star" in sports information.