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Kelly camp still growing at 20 Second session added as QB keeps passion

It is 9 a.m. on Day One at the Jim Kelly Football Camp, and you don't have to look far to find the star of the show.

There is the Buffalo Bills' retired Hall of Fame quarterback in the middle of the Bills' Fieldhouse, shouting through a bull horn and leading about 500 campers in warm-up exercises.

First-time campers might be surprised to see Kelly doing jumping jacks and sit-ups along with everyone else, but this isn't just a token appearance. It's a sign of a good week to come.

"The first time I was asked to help coach at the camp, I said, 'no,' " said John Barnhart, a football coach from St. Mary's, Pa., who works the Kelly camp every year. "I didn't want to go to a camp where the celebrity was just a figurehead, somebody who said hello on Sunday, and then you didn't see him again until he handed out the trophies on Friday. That's the way it is with some camps, but I found out it's not the way it is with Jim."

Kelly's football camp celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer, and everyone associated with it agrees on the big reason for its long-term success: the passion and commitment Kelly brings to it each year.

"I love kids, and I love coaching kids," Kelly said. "Unfortunately I always dreamed about coaching my own son, and as you know that's not going to happen. But I'm still a big kid at heart. I tell my wife, 'I'm going to be a big kid until the day I die.' "
"Jim is in there with his sleeves rolled up all day, every day," said Marc Honan, Bills vice president of marketing and broadcasting. "He's involved in every aspect from the instruction to the setup and production. It's his baby."
Few celebrity sports camps hit the 20-year mark. Hall of Famer Joe Namath has a football camp that's in its 31st year. But Dan Marino isn't running a camp anymore. Neither are Joe Montana, John Elway or Warren Moon. Yet the Kelly camp is going stronger than ever.
After starting out as an overnight camp at St. Bonaventure University and then moving to the University at Buffalo and the University of Rochester, the camp has been at home at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park the past 10 years.
In 2004, there were 515 campers and a waiting list to attend, so Kelly decided to break it into two separate camps at the Bills' complex. This year the camp will host about 800 youths -- 400 at each session -- ages 9 to 18. The Red Camp runs June 27-30. The Blue Camp runs July 16-19. Each runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. for three days. There is a two-hour evening orientation on the first day. The cost is $225. Call 204-1212 or go to jimkelly.com.

Kelly, 47, says the camp is as much fun for him as ever.
"The funny thing is I remember when I first started the camp I said that hopefully I'll be doing this 20 years from now," Kelly said. "Here it is and we're still doing it and it's still as much fun as when we started."
On any given day of camp, Kelly can be found jumping into flag football games as the substitute quarterback.
"When he's moving around from field to field, he'll come right out and correct someone on a fundamental or he'll build up everyone's enthusiasm level," Barnhart said. "He gives us a shot of adrenaline. He'll quarterback a team, and the defense wants to intercept a Jim Kelly pass, and the offense wants to catch a pass from Jim Kelly."
"I'm a phys-ed teacher, and there's still a little bit of kid in me that likes to be out there in gym class playing with the kids," said Mike Torrillo, an assistant football coach at Sweet Home High School who is head of football operations for the camp. "That's Jim. If he wanted to be a phys-ed teacher, he'd be outstanding. If he wanted to be a coach, he'd be outstanding."
Kelly, however, also takes his status as a role model seriously.
"From the time we first started at St. Bonaventure my biggest thing was to talk to the kids about respect and values and having good manners," he said. "Always say please and thank you. Please and thank you go a long way in life.

"Ever since we started, every camper gets to have one thing autographed by me," Kelly said. "If they say thank you, I say, 'You're right,' and send them off to the right side. If they don't I say, 'You're left,' and send them off to the left side. Then I ask, 'All you Rights over here, what did these guys not do?' And they say, 'They didn't say thank you.' When we were at St. Bonaventure I'd make all the Lefts go grab a leaf. And they'd say, 'Where are we going to get a leaf?' I'd point to the trees about 700 yards away and say go pick one and bring it back to me. Now that we're at the stadium we make them run a lap around the field. I've gotten thank-you letters from parents saying their kids learned the lesson of saying please and thank you at camp."

The camp operations are directed by Dennis Stupski, an employee of Jim Kelly Enterprises. He coordinates a team of 60 coaches, 10 support staff and 10 medical staff.

"We pride ourselves on keeping a ratio of one coach to every 12 kids," Torrillo said.

The camp also includes a guest speaker each day. Bills General Manager Marv Levy and many current and former Bills players have participated.

"Every year we have Mark Kelso and Steve Tasker come in, and they are two of the greatest speakers the kids are ever going to hear," Kelly said. "They're two guys who nobody thought could make the NFL -- people told them they wouldn't make it -- but they never gave up and they beat the odds. They definitely make a big impression on kids."

"I went to the Joe Paterno Football Camp as a kid," Kelly said. "I know what it was like as a little kid going to these camps and how important it is to have good role models to look up to."

e-mail: mgaughan@buffnews.com

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>Former Kelly campers

Prominent players who have attended Jim Kelly's football camp:

Marc Bulger, QB, St. Louis Rams

Shawn Springs, CB, Washington Redskins
Anthony Dorsett, CB, Oakland Raiders*
Alan Zemaitis, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jehuu Caulcrick, RB, Michigan State
*-retired

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