By Matthew Stenberg ’14
As I woke up early one morning — following my usual routine of heading down to the ICB studio for my proverbial morning drive newscasts with Mia O’Brien and Emily Junge — I checked my email to see a response from ESPN’s Kevin Connors. I had emailed Kevin about conducting a phone interview to learn about his past experiences at Ithaca College, and the road that he traveled towards ESPN. I felt like it was a shot in the dark; but I went for it, and I’m sure glad I did.
That immediately told me something about him. He easily could’ve brushed me off and not responded, or he could’ve said that he was too busy. The spotlight of ESPN hadn’t shaped him into an egotist. He understands his background, and the place that got him to where he is today.
Kevin grew up loving sports as a kid. A Long Island native, he played a number of sports, but focused solely on basketball his sophomore year in high school. He was able to experience the broadcasting world earlier than most, as his school was one of the few in the area with a TV studio. He was able to broadcast the football games, as well as read sports updates during the morning announcements. When it was all said and done, Kevin knew that he wanted to further himself at a Division III college — both athletically and academically.
Sport was a way of life for Kevin in college. He split his time between playing basketball, broadcasting, and working in the sports information department with Pete Moore. “I still say that Pete was the best teacher I had at Ithaca,” Connors reflected. “Working in the sports information office was hugely important to me, because it taught me attention to detail, and [the importance of] being professional.” These helpful lessons are easily transferable skills, which Kevin was able to use not only in the media realm, but also on the hard court.
Kevin was a four-year letter winner at Ithaca College on the men’s basketball team. Despite his success, Kevin had a number of hurdles to overcome. “I didn’t feel like I was ready to play at the level that I needed to be at to play college basketball,” he explained, referring to his freshman year, “so I worked pretty hard on that.” He went on to explain how he played for a very tough coach, Tom Baker, and how his time in the gym was a real challenge. “I had a lot of ups but also a lot of downs — more downs than ups during my college career — and it was really difficult for me because for my entire life basketball was everything and I succeeded at basketball to a large degree.”
Sure, times were tough; however, he explained that looking back at the overall picture, it was a great experience, because it taught him a number of life lessons. “Life is about dealing with adversity,” Connors recalled, “it really sort of toughened me up to deal with overcoming obstacles and sticking it out when you believe in something and fighting through tough times.” Those lessons not only helped Kevin in Ben Light Gymnasium, but also during his shifts over the airwaves.
One place where Kevin could find release was the Roy H. Park School of Communications. “I remember walking past the WICB studio with my dad on a recruiting trip with Chris Wheatley, and being like ‘Wait a minute, I can get DJing shifts when I’m here?’” Over the course of his four years, Kevin worked on a number of television and radio shows, all of which still exist today. “We did Sports Journal, and updates, and then eventually you’d graduate to WICB, and Sports Talk, and my junior and senior year I was one of the voices of Ithaca Football on WICB, and then on the TV side I did Gridiron Report my senior year, and my sophomore year I did features on Gridiron Report.” Kevin definitely made the most of all that the Park School had to offer, and was able to share his unforgettable experiences with a great group of people.
Kevin had friends and a supportive family who always had his back. Some of his greatest memories about Ithaca were the friendships he made, and how everyone pushed each other to the best of their abilities, whether it was teammates, or fellow broadcasters. “The biggest reason for whatever success I had at Ithaca was the group of friends that I had,” Connors said. “I mean we really, really, took stuff seriously.” That work ethic and professionalism stayed with him after graduation. When he was offered a job towards the end of his senior year he gladly accepted, and started just three days after he left Ithaca.
“The hardest job to get is going to be your first job,” Connors told me. Fortunately for him, he was able to make connections right out of school and work for one of his friend’s family TV stations: Regional News Network in New Jersey. “I thought ‘alright, I’ll be here for a little while, and then from there move on;’ seven and a half years later I thought, ‘how the hell do I get out of this station and move on to something else?’” Rejection was becoming all too familiar for Kevin. “I thought that I couldn’t get arrested in sending out my tapes for TV jobs,” alluding to the fact that he wasn’t having much success getting a new gig. After all, “life is about dealing with adversity.”
Finally, he ended up with an interview at WCBS-Radio, and shortly thereafter, WCBS-TV. Those experiences allowed him to get an interview at ESPN, where he has become one of the primetime anchors for SportsCenter.
Kevin definitely made the most of his time at Ithaca College, and went out of his way to make sure that he was prepared for what life threw at him next. “I approached the broadcasts that I did when I was at Ithaca in the same way that I do with the 11 o’clock SportsCenter tonight,” Connors said. Despite all of the experience that he has in the broadcasting industry, he admits that he still gets a little nervous “when you’re not getting that it’s either time to move on to another show, or into a different career.”
For Kevin, I don’t think that will be happening anytime soon.