Bobbie Kelsey is the Commissioner of Athletics and Academics for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). After an impressive career in sports, she knows first-hand the importance of excelling on and off the field.
Born in Pontiac, Michigan, her parents later moved to Georgia where she graduated from Southwest DeKalb High School in Decatur, Georgia. Bobbie earned an undergraduate degree from Stanford University, majoring in communications, with an emphasis in media studies.
“I thought I would work behind the scenes in television production, but it didn’t happen that way; I ended up in front of the cameras as an assistant coach and, later, a sports commentator.
“I think it’s important to impress upon our student- athletes the importance of academics. I use myself as an example when I talk to students. I had to put in the academic work at Stanford. Our student-athletes need to understand that they must learn to use their academic disciplines to their advantage. I’ve used my degree in every career I’ve had since earning it in 1996. At some point, the ball will stop bouncing and they must be able use their education to manage businesses, manage their finances or enter other careers. We’re not just going to shelve the academics,” she said.
Bobbie’s basketball coaching career spans 22 years as she started coaching right out of college. She was an assistant basketball coach for Stanford University and a four-year player for the Stanford Cardinals. She also spent three years as an assistant coach at Virginia Tech before returning to her alma mater for a coaching position. She also held assistant coaching positions at Western Carolina, Evansville, Florida and Boise State University. In 2011 she was hired as the women’s head basketball coach at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, and later worked as an assistant coach with the WNBA Los Angeles Sparks. After servings as vice president of corporate wellness with the Boys and Girls Clubs, she landed her current position as Commissioner of Athletics and Academics for MPS.
Bobbie said that overseeing MPS’ athletic programs segues nicely into what she’s done in the past.
“When you’re running your own program the challenges are different. In college, you are responsible for running YOUR program. Now I’m responsible for 20 programs, eligibility issues, games, hiring and scheduling officials.
Among other challenges Bobbie faces is ensuring that all MPS student-athletes use athletics as a vehicle on the road to success.
“I want our student-athletes to understand that they have to allow their access to athletics to play a key role in building their confidence and changing their mindset to one of thriving, not just surviving. And in order to thrive, they must continue to do everything in their control to become successful. We will do that by helping to always take the positive outlook on sometimes negative situations,” she said.
Bobbie can’t say enough about the support and encouragement she’s had throughout her career, from other coaches and her family.
“So many people have helped and encouraged me; people like Bernell Hooker, of the Milwaukee Aces. She has been a good advocate; taking me around and introducing me to people. Numerous other individuals, like my former college assistant coach Julie Plank, and Tina Krah, have professionally put wind in the sails. I worked with Joy Williams early on as a new coach in Florida and she became like a big sister to me. Personally, my husband, my parents and my uncles— especially Uncle Abraham Walker—have been great encouragers. The best gift my husband and family have given me is faith. They believe in me, especially my grandmother who believed in being a person who didn’t make excuses, and I get that from her,” she said.
Bobbie said that one of her goals at MPS is to make sure that all kids that come through MPS are proud of being a part of the school district and have a great athletic experience—whether they continue in their respective sport or not.
“Realistically, they won’t all become professional athletes. No matter how far they go in their athletic career, if they can look back and say they had a good time, that’s the positive I want them to have. We don’t know or understand what many of these kids are going through at home. Some are raising themselves. I tell coaches to let the student athletes know they are loved; the coaches may be the only person that tells them that. It’s important that we don’t let our kids down. If you tell them something, they are looking to hold you accountable. If we don’t do that to the best of our ability, we are failing them. At the same time, athletics is not everything; they have to focus on academics. Athletics may be the vehicle to get them where they want to go, but they have to have an education. I had to get into college first and I took my academics very seriously; they go hand in hand,” she said.