I am pleased to introduce Compete readers to Catherine Kelly of the North American Gay Amateur Athletic Alliance, also known as NAGAAA.

Chris Blanke: First, do you prefer to be called “CJ” or Catherine?

Catherine “CJ” Kelly: I actually answer to either.

CB: Tell us a little about you – where are you from and where do you live now?

CK: I currently live in Kansas City, Missouri. But as an Air Force brat, I was born in Ruislip in Greater London and I grew up in Japan, Florida, Texas, Kansas and Nebraska. But my formative years were spent in Nebraska and I went to college there so I consider myself a Nebraska Cornhusker. I love football – my Huskers and my Kansas City Chiefs.

CB: Tell us how, when and why you got involved with NAGAAA.

CK: I first discovered NAGAAA (and gay softball) in 2002-2003 in Kansas City while playing for the Rabid Kittens in the Heart of American Softball League (HASL). Attending my first series in Washington, D.C. in 2003, I loved the experience at the national level and joined the local board in 2004 as recruitment director. I sponsored a few teams, did some fundraising and then became HASL open commissioner from late 2006 to 2009. While I was open commissioner I was introduced to NAGAAA as a delegate and was able to have a voice within the delegate body. I worked on several committees — annual giving, archives and sponsorship before being elected business development director at the winter meetings in 2016.

CB: What is your role as business development director?

CK: I have three main roles in that position:

partnership/sponsorship dollars and relations

branding and awareness and

external marketing/PR (e.g., press releases, social media and website)

CB: What’s been your biggest challenge in this position?

CK: So far it’s been getting previous sponsors to re-engage, not only for the Gay Softball World Series (GSWS) but for all of NAGAAA’s events – to get them to consider multi-year contracts and longer-term partnerships, basically moving them from a yearly sponsorship model to an integrated multi-year partnership. It’s easier with new partnerships since we’re using the new model as the gold standard.

CB: What is your favorite thing about being business development director?

CK: It’s to sit on the NAGAAA board and play a direct role in determining the organization’s strategic direction, making a lasting impact through objectivity and service. I now am a member of the NAGAAA team at the high decision-making level. It’s where I believe I can make the greatest impact and keep moving the organization forward by implementing a long-term plan for sustainability.

CB: What role do you play in host city selection for the GSWS?

CK: I’m invited to site visits to work with a host city during the bid and to help certify the bid. In working with the host committee, I offer advice and counsel about strategic partnerships, event venue contracts, etc. Then, like all other board members and delegates, I get to cast my vote for my bid preference for the next GSWS host city.

CB: What was your role as co-chair for the recent 40th anniversary of the GSWS?

CK: With co-chair Brian Reinkober (Milwaukee), I was able to work with a great committee to ensure event awareness and branding for the important 40th anniversary of NAGAAA’s GSWS and NAGAAA’s own 40th Anniversary. We kicked it off at the 2016 GSWS and will celebrate through to the end of 2017. NAGAAA is Gay Softball — 1977 to 2017.

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CB: How do you see NAGAAA evolving over the next three-to-five-years?

CK: I see NAGAAA growing exponentially with more regional qualifying tournaments as limitations on host cities to support a 200-250 GSWS become apparent. I see more committee involvement and more partner-branded tournaments and events.

CB: What would you say to someone who is interested in becoming more involved in NAGAAA?

CK: Speak up, commit and take action. Show the board your willingness to help not only with words but also through your actions. NAGAAA is growing and with growth comes opportunity, so raise your hands and roll up your sleeves.

CB: And if someone wants to get more involved, say with a NAGAAA committee or a board position?

CK: If you have a passion and want to explore it, speak up. If you have a skill or talent and want to use it, commit to helping. If you want to be a part of the changes, take action and volunteer. It’s that easy. Inform board members and committee chairs of your passion, talent and willingness to volunteer. There is always room in an organization for those who work to make the organization stronger.

CB: How do you find the time to manage your career and NAGAAA volunteer duties?

CK: In my full-time job I help grow non-profits, getting them to think more strategically and focus more on running it like a business. I look at NAGAAA as another non-profit on which I need to divide my time and focus my attention. My time increases to 14 hours on some days but you can’t bring about change if you aren’t willing to make sacrifices as part of that change.

I always want to leave an organization stronger than when I discovered it. I have tried to do that at the committee level and I intend to have it be my legacy at the national level. Being on a board, any board, takes some level of commitment in order to be successful. The more the commitment, the greater the success.

CB: What NAGAAA insights do you think players need to be aware of?

CK: It’s easy to make the right call or offer advice to a coach when you are sitting in the bleachers. But after-the-fact action isn’t as satisfying as being a part of the action. If you don’t like the rules of the game, the type of events, the fundraising options, the fields or location, the equipment used, etc., be a part of changing all of it. Get involved in your local league. If you want to do more on a national level, join a committee, chair a committee or run for a board position. Just remember, if you commit to it – DO IT!

CB: What is your sports background?
CK: From playing baseball as a kid, to volleyball, basketball and intramural sports in high school and college, I’ve tried a number of sports. I’ve also played on some sports teams through various jobs I’ve had. When I joined HASL, I basically had D-level skills and probably will not ever be more than an eight and I’m okay with that. Playing is not number one for me. I enjoy the game but not for sport — the camaraderie and social aspect of softball are the most important elements for me. I’m convinced I’m too old to play sports, anymore. I’m out of shape and disinterested in bad knees and sprained ankles.

CB: On a particularly challenging day, do you have a favorite saying that buoys your spirits and keeps you moving forward?

CK: That’s a hard one. But, I’d have to say, “A day without laughter is a day wasted.” And a very close second to that would be, “Sometimes laughter is the best medicine.”

CB: What bit of sage advice would you give your younger self?

CK: Listen more. You will come to know people who are much smarter than you. Cherish the wisdom and knowledge others impart to you, even if you don’t always agree. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Find ways to work smarter, not harder and you will be able to accomplish a lot more in a day than most. Trust people to do the right thing; you won’t be disappointed. Help others; that will be the greatest reward later in life.

CB: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me, Catherine. And continued success in all your efforts with NAGAAA and your other non-profits.

If you have questions about NAGAAA you can reach “CJ” by calling 636-3NAGAAA (362-4222) or emailing her at businessdevelopment@nagaaasoftball.org.


By Chris Blanke
2016 Molly Lenore Inspiring Athlete of the Year

Chris Blanke is from Austin, Texas and is a sports enthusiast who has played rugby, softball and flag-football.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Kelly