By Austin Chappell
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
One of the rarest, yet most interesting elements of sports can be found when multiple members of the same family achieve enough athletic success to play the same sport at a high level.
Barry Bonds, MLB’s all-time home run leader, was coached by his father, Bobby. New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski currently has two brothers playing in the NFL, with one not far behind at Kansas State.
However, for Oklahoma State’s Kristen Kelley and her seven brothers and sisters, the term “athletic family” is taken to a completely different level.
“Six out of the seven siblings played sports in college, so you can definitely say that there’s some athleticism in the Kelley family,” Kelley said. “And the only one who didn’t play sports in college ended up coming here to get an education, but he’s still a freak of an athlete.”
Kelley, a senior midfielder from Tulsa, comes into her final year with OSU’s Cowgirl Soccer squad as a four-year starter and the only senior on team, labeling her as a vital role model and example for success. Her reign at OSU has been filled with achievements, highlighted by trips to the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2011 and two Big 12 championships.
Yet, all of the awards and success she has compiled over the past four years is nothing new to the Kelley family.
Her brother, Tim, was a two-time All-Valley pitcher at Wichita State before earning a spot in the Detroit Tigers farm system in 2012. Claire, the youngest of the Kelley family, is beginning her freshman year as a member of Arkansas’ soccer team. The family also has two uncles who earned All-America honors as baseball players at Wichita State.
Colin Carmichael, OSU’s head coach, says that while Kristen is easily the hardest worker on the team, the natural sense of athleticism illustrated throughout her family is really what makes her such a special player.
“When we first recruited Kristen, we were just amazed at how she covered every blade of grass with her energy and enthusiasm,” Carmichael said. “When you come from a big, athletic family like that, you’re probably fighting and competing for everything. There’s no doubt that that’s rubbed off on her throughout her career and given her a step above her competition.”
It’s an added step that has given her the ability to succeed in several areas other than just on the soccer field.
In high school, Kelley was a four-year starter for Bishop Kelley’s basketball team and earned honorable mention All-State honors while also being named a 2010 Army National Scholar Athlete and Scholar All-America by NSCAA/adidas.
Her devotion to academics and off-the-field activities have also earned her two-time Academic All-Big 12 First Team honors and a reputation on the team as a role model.
Carmichael said Kelley is the perfect example of someone the younger players on the team can look up to and model themselves after, not unlike that of a younger brother or sister.
“She’s done an incredible job on and off the field of setting an example and being a responsible kid,” Carmichael said. “The younger girls on our team should take a lot away from Kristen and the way she carries herself not only as an athlete, but also as a student-athlete.”
While most athletes attribute a majority of their success to the same hard work and motivation that she displays, Kelley places an emphasis of what she has gained on the experiences and memories earned through her siblings and family. Whether it was playing tee ball in the backyard, racing against her little sister or calling shotgun on the way to the grocery store, everything was always a competition.
Kelley says it’s those experiences, not just her work ethic or drive for success, that have motivated her throughout life and have gotten her to where she is now.
“It’s always about competing with each other, like sibling to sibling, but when it comes to sports, it’s on a whole different level,” Kelley said. “I have learned so much just by always being in constant competition with them, and it makes me wonder how people can go through life without any siblings.”
On top of the overall sense of competition and athleticism Kelley has obtained from her family, there are also individual traits and assets that she feels she has pulled away from each of her siblings. She absorbs the mental tactics and stability needed for playing midfield from her detail-oriented sister, Katie. Sean, the ultra-competitive older brother, has pushed her to extreme heights and provided her with resilience and motivation.
In addition, the overall atmosphere of constantly being surrounded by competing family members has helped her learn to work with people and be the definition of a “team player.”
“When you get on teams, you see all these different personalities and you know that you’re going to have to work with them no matter what to create the team chemistry that you need,” Kelley said. “So, being around my brothers and sisters all the time has helped me know what to do, what not to do and how to treat everyone else when you’re on a team. It’s really beneficial for me playing on team sports because I get to see all these personalities that I’ve seen before in my family.”
As she closes out her final year with the Cowgirls, Kelley serves as the only senior on the team. Just like she would do for a younger sibling, she hopes to pass on her leadership and experience to the future class of Cowgirls.
“The only thing I can do other than show up on the field is to just try and set a good example in practice and outside of soccer,” Kelley said. “I really just want to leave behind a legacy of hard work and a lot of effort in everything you do.”