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By Lacey Gardner

Chuck Pollock: Kevin Austin was a hall-of-fame father and now a new hall of fame honor

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From left at the hall of fame ceremony honoring the late Kevin Austin are, Linda Austin (mom) Evelyn Austin (daughter), Kim Austin (wife) Emma Austin (daughter) and Nyhl Austin (dad)

A column by CHUCK POLLOCK

I had never heard of Kevin Austin in 1995, even though he was from nearby Wellsville and starting what would be a much-touted career.

You see Austin, a dedicated fantasy football player, had wearied of calculating weekly scores by hand. 

And, as a 27-year-old computer-savvy fantasy junkie, he concluded there had to be a better way.

Of course there was. Thus, he and a partner, Mike Hall, ultimately founded myfantasyleague.com which has evolved into one the country’s most respected and cost-friendly gaming sites. So much so that Austin and Hall last month were inducted into the Fantasy Sports Hall of Fame, the former, sadly,  posthumously.

But a little background is in order.

IN DECEMBER 1980, I was covering a Bills-Patriots game for the Olean Times Herald at Foxboro’s Schaefer Stadium. At one point, Pats’ running back Horace Ivory broke into the open. Suddenly, the press box’s almost church-like silence was broken by screams of, ‘Stop him … Stop him!’ coming from someone in the Boston media.

That “No Cheering in the Press Box” credo isn’t a myth. No matter what happens on the field, voices rarely exceed conversation level and never in celebration.

After the game, I questioned a Boston writer and he explained during a trip to Seattle early that season, the Seahawks media had taught them a new game, “Fantasy Football.” He said the screaming writer was going head-to-head with a colleague and didn’t want Ivory to score … probably the first documented reality of “No cheering in the press box … unless it’s your fantasy player.” I quizzed him about the rules and rudimentary scoring and, the next year, OTH colleague Pete Dougherty and I started the Times Herald Fantasy Football League. This will mark our 42nd year and oddly, what was mostly an in-house league still has 16 members but not a single one now works for the newspaper.

For the first 15 years, Dougherty had the cumbersome job of calculating the scores by hand.

That’s where Kevin Austin came in.

SOMEHOW Dougherty found out about myfantasyleague.com and signed the THFFL aboard.

It was the cliched “game-changer,” not only producing immediate results, but also adding features such as picks and survivor pools and so much information on players it rendered individual research to almost an afterthought.

I soon learned Kevin was from Wellsville, tracked him down and did a column. His humility impressed me as did the employees I talked to who praised his character and called him “the best boss” of their careers.

My thought was because our league was one of the original members of MFL and Kevin’s loyalty to a group from his home area, our ridiculously low initial fee never changed. Indeed even after his passing, it went up only incrementally given the tremendous amount of information it supplied.

SADLY, Kevin passed away, unexpectedly, at age 47.

But he was hardly forgotten.

What he and Hall, who originally had his own fantasy site, accomplished with their merger was notable. Myfantasyleague.com turned  into an award-winning, league management system.

Kevin Austin, left, and Mike Hall during their working days together.

In a press release, the  Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association noted, “Innovation, remaining nimble and maintaining a loyal customer base were hallmarks of the Austin-Hall duo. The pair introduced many advanced league options to the industry, staying true to the company’s original vision of giving commissioners the ability to customize their leagues.”

Before the  induction, Hall said of Austin, “Kevin was a loving husband and father to his family, and a treasured friend and co-worker. He was also an extremely talented entrepreneur and innovator in the fantasy sports industry. I can’t think of a more deserving recipient to be inducted into the Fantasy Sports Hall of Fame. He would have been thrilled with this recognition and it’s an honor for both of us to be recognized in this way.”

When told of Kevin’s imminent induction, his wife, Kim, noted, “I could not stop my tears of happiness. Our daughters were just 14 and 17 at the time of Kevin’s death. Their memory of his job was basically that he did something with fantasy football, and had a table at our school’s annual ‘Career Day’ where he’d try to embarrass his girls.

“I’m so happy for them to see how much their dad was respected by his peers, and what a difference he made in the fantasy football industry. This is such an incredible gift to our family. I know he would be so humbled and honored to accept it. Thanks to the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association, Kevin’s legacy will live on,” Kim added.

FSGA Chair Brandon Loeschner said of the induction, “After bettering our industry for so many years with their customer-first ingenuity and approach, it’s fitting that Kevin and Mike go into the Hall of Fame together. MFL continues to be an industry leader and a shining example of doing things the right way.”

THE INDUCTION ceremony took place June 13 in Cleveland and was attended by Kevin’s wife and daughters, his parents Nyhl and Linda, and other family members.

As Nyhl noted of the ceremony, “It was a very meaningful and emotional program and there were a few tears involved. We were so welcomed by those in attendance and were made to feel as if we were in the right place.” 

(Chuck Pollock is a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist. He can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net)

Mike Hall with his hall of fame award and Kim Austin holding the award honoring her late husband, Kevin Austin.

Other photos from the event:

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