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Killian’s team-first approach boosts DII festival

By David Pickle

Troy Killian knows all about being a motivated team member, he knows what it’s like to be a Division II student-athlete, and he knows the Louisville sports scene in and out.

Add it up and the director of event operations of the Louisville Sports Commission becomes an almost indispensable ingredient in the staging of the Division II National Championships Festival.

Louisville and Bellarmine University will host the 2012 festival May 15-19, and anybody attending the event will surely see Killian, even if they don’t much notice him working in the background.

Certainly an operations person is not the preening peacock of any athletics event. There’s not much “hey, look at me” involved in securing the necessary permits, obtaining Portalets or making sure that ice gets delivered to the competition venues.

That’s OK with Killian. As far as he’s concerned, it’s all about the team.

He played soccer at Division II Mars Hill and still remembers one magical day when the team came together in an especially powerful way.

It began with the pep talk from coach Chris Crist before the 1998 South Atlantic Conference championship game.

“He told us that only a small percentage of those who compete ever get to call themselves champions,” Killian said. “Then he told us that this was the time to get our championship.”

It was a glorious day. Opposing players from Catawba told Killian afterward that they had seldom seen a team perform at that level for an entire game. When the match was complete, Mars Hill – not a power in the years before – had won its first conference soccer title.

Fourteen years later, Killian is still the ultimate team player.

“Troy first and foremost is organized and detail-oriented,” said Scott Wiegandt, athletics director at host school Bellarmine. “He has a tireless work ethic. There were many times during the 2010 festival when we leaned on him for direction, and he delivered every time out.”

After graduation from Mars Hill, Killian picked up a master’s of sports administration and then worked for Disney’s Wide World of Sports. From there, he caught on with a couple of Florida triathlon-staging groups before being encouraged six years ago by his Kentucky-born wife to find a job in Louisville.

As operations director for the sports commission, Killian has worked big events, such as the Ryder Cup. This year, he’s playing a key role in something different – the World Cycle-Cross Championship, which is a multi-skill bicycle competition rooted in the pride of World War II couriers. Organizers are hoping for crowds of up to 20,000.

Compared to those events, the 800-person Division II festival is small, at least from a heads-in-beds perspective. But Killian said there’s more to it than the numbers.

“If we can get the future work force to see what a great location and town Louisville is, then maybe they’ll think about looking at jobs here after they graduate,” he said. “It’s a sales tool that most people don’t even think about, but a lot of cities and towns are trying to get the youth into their market so they can show off. And we have a great way to do that by bringing these events in.”

Besides the Division II festival, Louisville also hosted the second and third rounds of the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship in March. Division I cross country and women’s volleyball are on future dockets.

Killian’s role requires him to work especially closely with NCAA staff. In the case of the festival, that’s Amy Reis, assistant director of championships.

“We are in touch every day, almost all day,” Reis said. “Emails, calls – I feel like we work in the same office on occasion. I probably work with him more at times than I do anyone in my office. Sometimes, we even finish each other’s sentences.”

The clock doesn’t matter to Killian and Reis when the festival arrives.

“We happened to be dropping off letters from President Obama welcoming the teams to the event and it’s like 2 in the morning and the team from Alaska had just flown in and we were like, ‘Welcome to the festival!’ ”

It’s all fun in a workaholic sort of way, but it wouldn’t be as enjoyable if it weren’t for the support of hundreds of volunteers from the Louisville community.

Identifying those volunteers is one of the primary responsibilities of the sports commission, and Killian in particular.

“We’re fortunate that the University of Louisville has a SPAD program, which is a sports administration program,” Killian said. “They have a couple of hundred kids in that program who are looking to get into sports in some form or fashion.”

Beyond that, the help comes from sports-minded professionals in Louisville who enjoy helping out. Killian said 200 or so pitch in regularly.

Sometimes, the festival gives them all – staff and volunteers alike – more than they expected, such as when the 2010 event was hit with a final-day snowstorm. It made for a memorable day, but only because the event was so well-mapped.

“Troy and I knew what had to happen operationally,” Reis said. “We knew what needed to happen to communicate with our championship managers and what needed to happen to communicate with our fans. Troy had to work with the volunteers and more on-site, getting the fields ready.”

Certainly a 72-degree, sunny day would have been more welcome, but Killian said the day was satisfying and unusually memorable.

“The tournament managers got everything done, all the fields cleared and everything prepped,” he said. “And really, it was a challenge, but if you go back and look at some of the videos, it added an atmosphere to the whole event that you wouldn’t normally get.

“Out at cross country, it went from a cross country meet to kids running around crazy in the snow. It wasn’t the best playing conditions – definitely not – but from an atmosphere perspective, it was something special.”

This time around, snow will not be an issue, but the festival will almost certainly be special again, thanks to Killian and his teamwork.