Being able to coach together brought bowling stars Shannon and Bryan O’Keefe to McKendree University three years ago. They have thrived in the collegiate environment, bringing home the school’s first NCAA championship ever in April.
“We wanted to have the opportunity to coach together at the collegiate level together, and the family atmosphere at McKendree was the perfect fit,” Shannon said.
They live in O’Fallon and travel often for competitive bowling and their coaching duties.
Bryan is the director of bowling, and Shannon is the women’s head coach. He is also the head coach for the Junior Team USA.
Shannon recently was named the Coach of the Year for the second year in a row by the National Tenpin Coaches Association.
McKendree Athletic Director Chuck Brueggemann sought them out after discovering how renowned they were through a Google search.
He told ESPN: “With bowling, the thought was we go out and hire the best coaches in the game, and the young talent throughout the country would follow them.”
“Getting on the same stage where we could beat Nebraska, I can’t think of many other sports where the format would give you the opportunity. Looking on ESPN on Saturday and seeing the Nebraska N next to the McKendree bear head was, I’ve got to say, pretty neat,” Brueggemann said.
The No. 2 Bearcat women swept the five-time NCAA champs Nebraska — the first non-Division I team to win and the only team to ever sweep at nationals. In their first appearance at the nationals last year, they made the Final Four.
McKendree is a Division II school, but in bowling, there are no separations at the college level.
They enjoy the challenges of building the team and the program. How did that big win feel?
“We have both been fortunate to have had success throughout our own bowling careers. However, being able to mentor the lives of so many in a positive way and watch their dreams come true was awesome,” Shannon said.
The pair are humble, but their accolades are many. Bryan earned a gold-level coach status from the U.S. Bowling Congress, an honor only 26 other active coaches have.
ESPN called Shannon a “rock star.” Her Facebook fan page exceeds 17,000 likes.
Why do they love bowling?
“All the travel and lifetime friends I have met,” Shannon said.
“The strategy that comes along with playing on an invisible playing field,” said Bryan.
Shannon started bowling at age 16, and still competes. Last year, she won three times and was on five TV shows. She is a 13-time member of Team USA, six-time world champion, and a four-time Professional Women’s Bowling Association champion.
Bryan has been bowling since he was 9 years old. He won a collegiate national title at the University of Nebraska.
“Although coaching takes up the majority of my time, I still compete at the national level when time allows,” he said.
They met through bowling in 2000, at a tournament in Cincinnati. A few months later, they saw each other at an event in Las Vegas.
“We have been together ever since. We have been married for 12 years,” Shannon said.
Shannon studied criminal justice at Portland State University, and Bryan earned a degree in elementary education at the University of Nebraska.
“We have been all over the place. We both bowled for a living for a little while,” Bryan said.
Shannon worked in banking for about seven years, and Bryan ran pro shops at a bowling center in upstate New York.
Then, they both were hired by the U.S. Bowling Congress in Arlington, Texas. Shannon managed the call center, and Bryan managed the International Training and Research Center. He was also an assistant coach to Team USA and Junior Team USA.
This summer, they will not be resting on their laurels.
“Now that the student athletes are done with their season, I bowl professionally — every week until August is a ladies’ pro tour stop. We spent the last three weekends on the West Coast and were in Baton Rouge (Louisianna) for our first major. Mix in a few recruiting trips, and before you know it, the kids are back at school. So my summer is filled with bowling centers,” Shannon said.
Bryan is a bowling ball manufacturer’s representative on the Ladies Tour all summer.
“I travel from stop to stop to help coach the ladies who are in our bowling ball staff. I was also just hired as the head coach of Junior Team USA in January, so with recruiting trips, Team USA camps and events, my summer is also spent in a bowling center,” he said.
So, what’s next after winning that NCAA trophy?
“Hopefully, more national championships,” Shannon said. Bryan agreed.
Q: Do you have words to live by?
Shannon: “You get out of it, what you put into it.”
Q: Whom do you most admire?
Shannon: Lynda Barnes. She is an incredible mother who still excels at this sport. She has been an amazing mentor and friend.
Bryan: My father Dennis. He has persevered through some very challenging times, but has always stayed true to his friends and family.
Q: If you could spend time with a famous person, past or present, whom would it be?
Shannon: Ellen Degeneres. She’s hilarious, has lived an amazing life, and is so kind to everyone. She’s inspiring.
Bryan: John F. Kennedy, because he probably has some amazing stories to tell.
Q: What is the last book that you read?
Shannon: “My Daily Walk through the Bible” — I’m still reading it.
Bryan: Andre Agassi autobiography.
Q: What do you do for fun and relaxation?
Shannon: Not travel, and get a massage.
Bryan: Watch and or play sports, other than bowling.
Q: What is the usual state of your desktop?
Shannon: Organized clutter.
Bryan: Overall pretty messy, with post-it notes and reminders everywhere.
Q: What did you want to do career wise when you were growing up?
Shannon: I wanted to be a detective.
Bryan: I wanted to be a professional bowler.
Q: What do you think is your most outstanding characteristic?
Q: What irritates you most?
Shannon: Loud eaters.
Bryan: People that don’t follow through.
Q: What type of music do you listen to?
Bryan: A little bit of everything, but ’90s rap and hip-hop is my favorite.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
Shannon: The opportunity to be a positive influence on young lives, and to show them how to love others.
Bryan: Watching student athletes achieve things that ordinary people dream of.
Q: If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
Shannon: Own a dog rescue, and still coaching collegiately.
Bryan: Golfing and still coaching collegiately.
Q: When they make a movie of your life, who would play you?
Shannon: Julianna Hough, because she’s adorable.
Bryan: Matt Damon, because I think he’d be OK with shaving his head.
Q: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you have with you?
Shannon: My swim suit.
Bryan: ESPN app.