Benchwarmer gets his chance on reality TV

MONTEVIDEO -- Every high school benchwarmer dreams of having that one chance to get out on the field of play and match skills with the stars of their sport.

MONTEVIDEO -- Every high school benchwarmer dreams of having that one chance to get out on the field of play and match skills with the stars of their sport.

Mark Kilibarda got it at age 39, thanks to reality TV.

Kilibarda will be featured on a national cable television program known as "Pros vs. Joes.'' The Spike TV episode including Kilibarda will air at 10 p.m. Thursday.

Kilibarda and seven other "Joes'' got their chance to match skills with retired greats Christian Okoye (NFL football), Dan Majerle (NBA basketball), and Paul Coffey (NHL hockey).

"Awe and excitement,'' said Kilibarda of how he felt when he went up against the pros under the bright lights of the Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla.


"It's quite a story to tell people,'' said Kilibarda.

It starts with his real-life role as a computer trouble shooter for Fresh IT Solutions in Montevideo. That's where he lives with his wife Holly, and their four children: Adam, 10; Derek, 9; Madeline, 7; and Landon, six months.

He grew up on a farm near Courtland and attended New Ulm Cathedral High School. He loved sports, but farm chores always came first. Kilibarda said his high school sports career in football, basketball and baseball can be summed up very easily: "I sat on the bench.''

He became passionate about playing intramural basketball while attending Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and later, Minnesota State University-Mankato. Once free of the farm chores, Kilibarda said it wasn't unusual for him to spend two and three hours a day playing intramural sports in college.

He's nearly as active today in men's league and community recreation sports. Not surprisingly, he also loves watching "Pros vs. Joes'' on cable television with his two older sons.

But to survive the selection process that put him in front of the cameras took more than proving how his skills as an amateur athlete have improved. It took Hollywood-like special effects and, of course, acting ability.

The acting came by way of his ability to mimic the way Will Ferrell trash-talks in the movie "Talladega Nights.'' One of the first steps toward qualifying for the reality TV show was to produce a video in which he demonstrated his athletic ability in basketball and football while also doing some trash talking.

The special effects came in response to an e-mailed request from the show's producers asking Kilibarda for a picture of himself in a hockey uniform. It was the middle of summer.


Kilibarda dutifully went down to Montevideo's outdoor ice arena in a football jersey, strapped on a pair of skates and knifed their blades into the lush, green grass while sweating profusely in the 90-degree heat. He had to stand sideways to the camera to hide the football on the jersey. His computer skills allowed him to crop out the grass on the picture.

He realized too late that all of the trees in the background were in full summer bloom. That didn't seem to catch the eye of the photo's recipients in Los Angeles. They sent him an invitation to try out in Chicago with 31 other reality TV wannabes.

Wife Holly and the kids cooled off in Lake Michigan while Kilibarda sweated it out in competition, playing two-on-two basketball and tossing footballs.

The Montevideo family returned home without a word said on how he did, but the next day an e-mail brought the news.

Thrilled and excited beyond belief by the news, Kilibarda kept mum about his invitation to compete on the show. Having watched the show, he knew that some of the "Joes'' who make the cut still don't see any air time.

Kilibarda said he received "almost zero'' information on what to expect when he showed up at the Orange Bowl for the show's filming in mid-October. The only clue about what might await him was a terse advance message: "Bring your skates.''

A confidentiality agreement prevents him from discussing aspects of the show prior to its airing. He's not even allowed to name the stars, even though their names are now listed in programming promotions.

The two-day filming was exciting, fun and exhausting, according to Kilibarda. Even though the Joes were competitors, "everybody cheered each other on,'' he said.


As for the pros, he can say this: "They were fantastic, really good guys. Down to earth.''

And yes, the former benchwarmer felt like a pro himself. "It was so fun. I went from daily life in a small town to bam, standing in the Orange Bowl in Miami under the bright lights.''

Then he flashed a smile and quickly added: "Overwhelming. This is crazy.''

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