By LARRY VAUGHT
Champ Kelly grew up in Florida unable to afford to attend high level summer athletic camps. That’s why the former University of Kentucky player, who is now assistant director of pro personnel with the Denver Broncos, always wanted to start a unique summer camp — one that was free for youngsters to make sure everyone could attend.
“I wanted a camp that would rival any camp you could go to instruction-wise, but would be free,” said Kelly. “I am not about to have kids come to camp and not learn anything about football or life. The camp we have is hard work, but you are learning from quality athletes. You are not coming and just running around cones.
“But kids will also learn how to make decisions off the field that could impact the rest of their life. That’s the most important thing we teach.”
The 5th Annual C.H.A.M.P Camp will be June 20-21 at Lexington Catholic High School. Registration at www.heartpowerinc.org is free through May 17. For the first time this year the camp will have two age divisions — 10 to 13 and 14 to 18.
“We basically will run two camps that work together,” Kelly said.
Kelly shared these insights on his camp and how anyone wanting to help the camp can do so.
Question: How do you keep finding the time and energy year after year to continue this camp?
Kelly: “I am a believer that you can make time and energy for anything you count as a priority. But, I admit, it is tough. In the NFL, there is no offseason for personnel members. After the NFL season, the job of my department is to work to acquire players that can help us win world championships. And now, any down town I have is spent tending to my daughters Claire Alaina (2 years old) and Chloe Grace (5 months old). Trust me, the job of being husband and father requires more energy than anything else!
“Seriously, the camp is important to me, and I honestly have more help and support staff in Lexington than in the other locations. Eventually, the Lexington CHAMP Camp will totally be ran by Dougie Allen, Leonard Burress, Kelly Colson, Melanie Franson, Dayna Baston, Jessica Lawrence and others. Although some of these ladies aren’t as well-known as Dougie and Taco (Burress), they are vital to the camps and all UK grads. Melanie and Dayna have been a part of UK football before I came to Kentucky.”
Question: What has been the most rewarding part of having a camp in Lexington?
Kelly: My initial response to this question is the most rewarding part of any CHAMP Camp regardless of location is hearing success stories and testimonies of former CHAMP Campers. We’ve had several kids go to a camp and hear a message that impacted their lives. Some of these kids in particular have impressed a coach or two on site and received scholarships.
“Another rewarding aspect about the camp in Lexington is just seeing UK alumni and former players return and give back on their own dime. I wasn’t a big time player at UK. I worked hard and tried to be a good teammate. It’s special to have guys like Anthony White, Gordon Crowe, Derek Abney, Dusty Bonner, etc., come back to help. There are several others I’m leaving out. Shoot, even Billy Jack (Haskins) donated to us this year. In addition guys like Neal Brown, John Schlarman, and Chad Scott send blessings and support of the camp, but they can’t contribute due to NCAA rules (since the coach at Kentucky).”
Question: What players will be coming back to help you again this year and why do you think so many continue to come back?
Kelly: “There will be a lot of former players that come back to help. I know they don’t do it for the notoriety but I’ll mention a few mainstays. In addition to the guys I listed above, I expect La’Rod King, Antione Huffman, Jared Lorenzen, Mark Perry, Ellery Moore, Vincent Burns, and Nigel Smith to be in attendance. I think these guys come back because they genuinely love working with the kids. Plus, we are a part of a great fraternity, UK football. I know they enjoy just having a chance to be around each again. There are also a few current NFL players who have taken time over the years to come back during this time: Garry Williams, John Connor and Winston Guy. Randall Cobb came back a couple years ago. Jacob Tamme has the major charity golf event during this time but he always tries to stop by and say hello. I’m working on Danny Trevathan to make an appearance this year.”
Question: What kind of financial help/support could you use if an individual, business or corporation was interested?
Kelly: “Raising support for these camps is what becomes increasingly harder each year. People think because I work in the NFL that I receive some incredible salary and should be able to foot each camp’s expenses alone. Although I’m blessed, my bank account is pedestrian. We cannot sustain the camps without donations and support. For instance, since our coaches and staff work for free, we try to make sure that they stay in a nice place and receive a good meal each night. We usually need around 20 rooms for out of town coaches and help that fly or drive in. The math would indicate that each room is around $90 – $100. Assuming the rooms are needed for three nights, we are around $5,400 in room costs alone. This is a major expense for us.
“We also have to pay for T-shirts, insurance, etc. We’ve been fortunate to have Texas Roadhouse provide a staff meal and Papa Johns provide lunch for the kids as a sponsorship. The HIT Center provides their location for our staff to workout and they host us for dinner. Chick-Fil-A provides breakfast one morning. Rafferty’s in Hamburg has pledged to help with a staff meal. These trades and other personal donations from families and firms such as Fowler Law keep us afloat. I personally want to make sure the camp stays free. If you want to donate, visit www.heartpowerinc.org. Any contribution will help. We also give goodie bags to the campers. If you’d like to contribute in that way, let us know.”
Question: What will be going on at Roosters in Lexington May 8 with the auction and such?
Kelly: “On May 8th after 5 p.m., which is the first round of the NFL Draft, Roosters has decided to sponsor with us by giving us 15 percent of their sales as long as you present a flier or mention Heart Power or CHAMP Camp. We really want to drive up some support through this deal. Therefore, we are going to give anyone how comes through Roosters during the time frame that will be willing to mention us a free chance to win a 2013 Denver Broncos autographed item. There is no fee to enter. We just want to fill Roosters.
“We are also going to have some silent auction items on display. There will be a 2013 Denver Broncos football autographed by the entire team. There will also be a one of kind poster autographed by Champ Kelly … just kidding. It will be a fun night. Of course, I won’t be there because I’m in the war room (with the draft), but I will be checking in periodically.”