The Man Behind the Magic Numbers

Kevin Shields only works for the Fox Chapel Area High School football program for three months each year, but what he produces behind the scenes as the team’s statistician lasts way beyond that brief time span.

People like Kevin’s statistics – and those of statisticians from other high schools, colleges, and the pros – for all sorts of reasons. Coaches like them to get a look at the effectiveness of game strategies and personnel and unit performance. Players and college recruiters like them because they can track progress from game-to-game and year-to-year. Then there are the sports enthusiasts who can get rather fanatical about numbers, what they say and what they don’t say, and want to see where their favorite players are ranked.

Kevin’s own entry into sports statistics got an unusual start. A self-declared “sports freak,” Kevin certainly didn’t have the profession on his trajectory after getting his bachelor’s degree in communications. His first job was as a part-time unpaid sports reporter to gain entry into the highly competitive field. Eventually, he got a job as a freelance stringer for the now defunct Pittsburgh Press, and later the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Even though sports was his passion, being a stringer didn’t pay a whole lot, so he changed direction and went back to school to get a second degree in computer networking, and graduated with high honors.

His current day job involves computers on a business level, but Kevin, whom Director of Athletics Michael O’Brien calls “the best statistician in the WPIAL,” found he couldn’t give up sports altogether. That’s what led to his seasonal gig with the Foxes’ football team – a job that’s fast-paced, sometimes nerve-wracking, and where there’s never a moment’s rest, even at halftime. Mid-game is when the coaches eagerly await his statistics to determine whether adjustments will be made in the second half.

But Kevin isn’t all about the numbers all the time. During the six years he’s been with the Foxes, he’s developed a great rapport with the coaches, a genuine interest in the program and the players, and he’s happy for them when they succeed.

Sometimes at halftime I will say to the coaches, ‘Hey listen, he only needs a certain amount of yards for a hundred-yard game,’” Kevin says. “Sometimes they listen and sometimes they don’t, but it feels good to be able to point things out that otherwise they might not be aware of.”

It’s impossible, however, for one person to keep a close watch on everything that happens simultaneously from various parts of the field, so Kevin relies heavily on help from Greg Salerino, the Foxes’ spotter.

“Greg is my ‘caller,’ and does a great job in describing each play so we don’t get behind on them,” explains Kevin when describing the aura of teamwork in the press box. “He tells me who made the tackles, who carried the ball, and basically everything that happened during a game so I can record it and get everything accurate.”

The nitty-gritty of recording and calculating the numbers is accomplished through sophisticated software used by almost all NCAA colleges. The program uses code to create play-by-play statistics and generates on-the-spot data that Kevin uses for his preliminary reports to the coaches and media. His final account, however, is not released until Monday after Kevin has watched the game again in its entirety on film shot by school videographer Chuck Stover.

One place where he sends that official report is to MaxPreps, an interesting online sports databank that lists a litany of team and individual statistics from thousands of schools across the country. The information Kevin provides will remain online for about 12 years or longer, and is just one reason that drives him to perfection. “I take pride in my work and want to have a perfect game, every game,” he says.

“I’m very, very happy where I am now and I know what I am doing is important,” says Kevin, whose own sports outlet for the past four years has been going to the Pirates’ Fantasy Camp in Bradenton, Florida. “It’s most gratifying to know what I’m doing could make a difference in a student athlete’s future as far as furthering their athletic career, or even helping them get a college scholarship. It’s been a wonderful experience be a small part of the Fox Chapel Area football program, especially in a year like this when the players did so well and ended the season on a positive note.”