Sports are not just a platform for Kelsey O’Leary to showcase her athletic skills.
They give voice to her social conscious, too.
O’Leary is the Upper St. Clair girls volleyball team’s leading hitter, and its chief fundraiser. The rising senior initiated “Volley For A Cause” where the Panthers select an organization at the beginning of the season and pledge to raise money. Charities of choice in past years have been Race Across America, the Children’s Cancer Research Fund and Casey’s Clubhouse with the Miracle League of the South Hills.
“As athletes, we forget how fortunate we are to play sports,” said the 18-year-old daughter of Barbara and Terrance O’Leary. “So it’s good to give back.”
In giving, O’Leary has received. She was recently recognized as the Most Positive Girls Volleyball Athlete in Western Pennsylvania.
In its ninth year, the Positive Athlete program honors student-athletes based more on character than athletic performance. The program was founded by former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward.
“I was very surprised and honored to be among these amazing student athletes,” O’Leary said. “It’s a wonderful organization and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. It’s nice to be recognized for giving back.”
O’Leary said it was her family, coaches and teammates that made the distinction possible. They have been the secret to her success because of the support they have shown her along the way.
O’Leary’s brother, Jack, won a Most Positive distinction for golf. The USC alum now competes at Allegheny College.
“I guess it runs in the family,” she said. “Definitely, though, there was some sibling motivation.”
O’Leary attempted to golf and play volleyball at the same time. However, she sprained her ankle during the first volleyball practice and was unable to tryout for the girls golf team. Both are fall scholastic sports.
O’Leary also excelled at swimming. She picked up the activity at age 7 when she belonged to the Woodland Hills Swim Club. By seventh grade, she was competing for USC’s community club team.
“I grew out of the other sports,” O’Leary said. “When I played volleyball I fell in love with it. Volleyball was best me.”
“Volleyball has influenced me greatly,” she continued. “I’ve met wonderful people. who have made an impact on my life and it’s taught me how to work with others. That will be key later in life.”
Right now, the 5-10 right-side hitter is preparing for her final scholastic season. O’Leary hopes to commit to a Division I program and major in education. She would like to be a teacher like her mother, who works at Streams Elementary School.
“I just enjoy being around younger kids,” she said. “They are at a very interesting age with all the changes they go through.”
On the court, O’Leary has gone through several changes. She will play this season for new head coach Kim Manning, who replaces Victor Moras.
O’Leary demonstrated leadership capabilities in the past. When captain Emily O’Malley went down with an injury, O’Leary filled that role.
“I just tried to keep things uplifted as much as possible,” she said. “It’s my nature to step in, help and try to improve.”
This fall, O’Leary is trained on helping the Panthers win a WPIAL title and pledging more money to charity.
By the end of the school year, O’Leary and her philanthropic endeavors could net her another Positive Athlete honor.
“I’d love to win it again,” she said. “The award means so much to me. It’s really more of a reminder that what we’re doing is a good thing and you shouldn’t give up. You should give back and maintain a positive attitude. Definitely, having one gets you a lot farther in life and brings people together.”
Among the other USC student-athletes receiving 2019-20 Positive Athlete nominations were recent graduates Ryan Junko (volleyball, football), Sara Steve (golf, basketball), Paige Stevenson (softball) and Grace Swigart (softball).