By Brandon M. Bickerstaff
The Sun Herald
BILOXI, Miss. – For media relations director Mike Kelly, working for the Mississippi Sea Wolves is a labor of love.
For the past five years, Kelly has doubled as the “Voice of the Sea Wolves,” handling play-by-play duties during the team’s radio broadcasts. He often puts in nearly 60 hours of work a week sending out press releases, souvenir game programs, and media notes, and overseeing the team’s official Web site.
Win or lose, Kelly may be the Sea Wolves’ biggest fan. Not only because they sign his paychecks, but also because of the personal relationships he has built both within the team and with its fans.
“It’s felt like home ever since my wife and I got here five years ago,” Kelly said. “Everybody’s been fantastic. I think it’s the Southern hospitality. It’s unbelievable. Everybody’s been so gracious to us over the years.”
Kelly began his 11-year career in hockey as a broadcaster for the Ontario Hockey Association’s Orangeville team. He has also had stints with the Ontario Hockey League’s Toronto St. Michaels Majors and Barrie Colts, and the United Hockey League’s Brantford Smoke.
Kelly took a break from hockey to become a television anchor in British Columbia in 1999. The time away only fueled his desire to get back involved with the game he loves. The following year he and his wife of seven years, Suzanne, headed for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. They are expecting their first son on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 6.
Kelly’s infatuation with the radio began as a young boy growing up in Seaforth, Ontario, a town of 2,300 approximately two hours away from Toronto. While watching the Maple Leafs play on television, Kelly picked up a habit that would later shape his life.
“At that time, I started collecting hockey cards,” he said. “I’d lay out all the hockey cards on a rug, and I’d have both teams, and I would be doing play-by-play as a kid. That’s where I started. I’ve always had the passion to do it. I guess you could call it destiny.”
Though he loves his job, it doesn’t come without its hang-ups. Technical difficulties have occasionally made his duties harder, but Kelly takes it all in stride, often resorting to unorthodox methods to ensure that Sea Wolves fans get all the latest information about their team.
“You just have to go with the flow,” he said. “The other night, we had problems with the telephone line, so I had to call the game over the phone. It was just one of those things. That’s the second time (in my career) I had to do it.”
In one instance, the lines at the team’s flagship station, WGCM-AM, went dead. Kelly kept season-ticket holders updated through the Internet.
“We were totally down, so I just e-mailed the ticket holders with updates,” he said. “It was strange just sitting there watching the game, to be there and not calling the action. That was a first. I’ve called over 320 games. I live and breathe Sea Wolves.
“I always like to make sure Sea Wolves fans receive all the latest information about the team. E-mail was the only way that I could keep everyone up to date that particular night.”
While his accolades include receiving the ECHL’s Media Relations Award in 2003 and broadcasting the 1997 Women’s World Hockey Championship, Kelly said his career’s ultimate reward would be to one day hoist the ECHL championship trophy that bears his family surname.
“My goal is to carry the Kelly Cup,” he said. “I want to actually lift the Kelly Cup. With the Kelly name from my family and everything, I want to win the Kelly Cup. That would mean a lot to me.”