Kelly has Bayhawks cradling community role

Giving back to the community is nearly as important to Chesapeake Bayhawks owner and coach Brendan Kelly as defending the 2010 Major League Lacrosse championship.

Kelly has taken a community-first approach in the eight months since he purchased the team, keeping Bayhawks players and staff busy this offseason volunteering, donating items for auction and sponsoring area charity events.

"I'm a big proponent of giving back to the community," said Kelly, who also serves as president of Annapolis-based staffing firm Smartlink LLC. "We want to give back every weekend, whether it's at homeless shelters, helping the military — whatever it is, we want to make sure we're giving back."

Kelly had no experience operating a professional sports franchise when he purchased the Washington Bayhawks franchise in March, but he proved his savvy when he immediately renamed the team the Chesapeake Bayhawks in an effort to draw support from Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

In another surprising move, Kelly named himself coach in July after the resignation of John Tucker and led the team to victories in four of its final five games, including a 13-9 win over the Long Island Lizards in the league championship game Aug. 22 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

A 1990 graduate of Mount St. Joseph, Kelly played collegiately at Salisbury and was part of the school's 1995 national championship team. Winning is great, Kelly says, but contributing to the greater good of the community is just as satisfying.

"The mission for us was getting involved with community," Kelly said. "I think that's why the team was struggling in the market. The successful franchises in the market get involved in the community, stay involved in the offseason, and it makes people take an interest in the franchise."

Midfielder Kyle Dixon (Archbishop Spalding), who has been with the franchise since 2006, sees Kelly's leadership as one of the biggest boosts to the overall operations of the team. The team's heightened focus on charitable endeavors is a change from previous ownership regimes and a factor Dixon believes has led to the franchise's transformation.

"Previous regimes did events here and events there, but the professionalism under [Kelly] has stepped up tenfold," Dixon said. "The minds that he has brought into that office to help us market the team and advertise games and events has really stepped up."

Two weeks ago, six Bayhawks players volunteered at the Maryland Food Bank in Linthicum working in the kitchen and packing meals for families in need. In October, players participated in the Run with Miss Darby 5 Kilometer race at Kinder Farm Park in Millersville. The race benefited the Driving Miss Darby Foundation, which raises money to help cover medical expenses and travel and lodging costs for breast cancer patients undergoing treatment.

"They're kind of local hometown heroes here in Annapolis," event treasurer Monica Stone said. "I know a lot of kids were excited to see them. They signed T-shirts for kids, and I think tons of kids came out to see those players."

This weekend, the team has sponsored two charitable events, the Heartsongs Gala in Washington to benefit muscular dystrophy and the CASAblanca event at the Loews Annapolis Hotel, which benefits abused and neglected children in Anne Arundel County.

For Kelly, one of the most memorable games of last season coincided with the team's Ladies Night promotion in June when the Bayhawks sported pink shirts and pink helmets, and donated $7,000 to the Avon Foundation for breast cancer research. After the game, players autographed their helmets to be auctioned on the team's website; one helmet sold for as much as $700.

"We really don't say no to anybody," Kelly said about the team's community-first philosophy. "If someone calls, we try to get out there and help."