Football 101 enjoys huge response

The Kelly Cares Foundation hosted its annual Football 101 event at Notre Dame Tuesday night.

In June 2010, just prior to Paqui Kelly's first Football 101 event at Notre Dame, the wife of the University's head football coach explained the Kelly Cares Foundation's three-pronged focus:

"Education, community outreach, and women's health: we're not keeping it specific to breast cancer because there are other women's issues as well," she noted.

Last night's Football 101, the second edition at Notre Dame led by Paqui and her husband, Brian, touched on each facet.

Football drills – offense, defense and special teams; behind the scenes looks at helmet cam, tours of the player lounge, locker room, training room, and weight room, and yes, even a fashion show highlighted the football portion of the event with proceeds benefiting breast cancer research.

In 2010 the event drew 300 women – nearly double the total of previous seasons at Cincinnati. Last night it doubled again, with 600 women contributing $108 (to signify the fact that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lives) to benefit breast cancer prevention, awareness, and early detection initiatives chosen by the Kelly Cares Foundation.

"The support in the South Bend and Mishawaka area has been outstanding," Paqui noted. "It's a wonderful response. I was a little overwhelmed when I first got here (to South Bend). For the size of the city, this area is a very giving community. They've reached out and they want us to be successful and they want us to help them. It's a great feeling."

The event moved from a Stadium to facilities focused, with the hospitality tent erected at the LaBar Practice Complex to accommodate the huge turnout.

"We were looking at logistics, we were sad last year (being forced to cap at 300 attendees). And then when that doubles, it's a logistical problem. We felt changes were needed to get more people (involved) because there was a want and need."

Her husband, Irish head football coach Brian Kelly, was likewise pleased, noting the unique draw of Notre Dame as part of spike in attendees.

"I will say that Notre Dame has a lot to do with it. The Foundation has been well-received. Obviously women's health issues have been very important to me and to my family and my wife in particular," he said. "It's really been all of those resources coming together: Notre Dame, the Foundation, and football at Notre Dame has a great attraction ,so I think pulling all of those things together has made this happen today."

Event evolves with demand

Among the aforementioned changes at this year's edition, after a 90-minute session with hors d'oeuvres and an open bar, were more learning stations for the attendees, with assistant coaches, trainers and players leading the drills and tutorials, as well as facilities' tours and a focus on terminology training for those looking to understand the game they enjoy watching.

"The groups are a little bigger so we've added more content," she stated. "They'll still see the facilities but also have a session with an umpire; they'll still see offense/defense/special teams, and also a session focusing on what the media does on game days.

"I think sometimes it's the (announcers') language that (fans) get caught up in," she noted. "I think the coaches do an outstanding job of making them feel comfortable and a lot of that is clarification.

"I think you learn a lot more about a sport if you understand a little why (things occur)…and our coaching staff does a great job of making it fun. (Attendees) want to be able to ask questions where it's more comfortable, because if they're listening on TV or listening on the radio, they kind of know, for instance, what an I-formation or shotgun is."

Paqui was exposed to sports as a youth, though Xs and Os remained a foreign concept.

"I'm from an all-girl family, but I go back to when (Hall of Fame wide receiver) Lynn Swann started to flip around sideways," she offered. "But I didn't know about Xs and Os. So when I started dating Brian, I asked ‘why this?' and why doesn't this guy go here?'

"I liked learning about it. It's helpful to know details when you watch any (sport).

For Brian Kelly, the event affords a chance to immerse his players into community outreach.

"They're 18- to-21-year olds, and I think one of the core components for me in player development is being ‘other-centered,' Kelly offered. "I want to make sure our kids are well-rounded and have an opportunity to give back and not just think about themselves, but to think about how they can help in other ways."

The event's popularity has led to expansion and a dual-purpose.

"Our goal initially was to have this be our local event for women with our Kelly Cares Foundation," Paqui said. "We've had so much support with donations that it is becoming a great fundraiser for us. It not only helps financially, with assisting other people, but it gets the word out with almost as much of an impact at the education end of it.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 and 2007, Paqui and her husband used humor and leaned on the support of friends and family.

"I took it lighthearted but that's me personally and how I've dealt with it and how we've dealt with it," Paqui said last June of her battles with breast cancer. "We've done things different. I had my kids shave my head both times to let them feel like it wasn't the sickness that was doing it. The medicine was doing it.

"You try to figure how your family will deal with it best."

Her mission, however, is to ensure fewer women will deal with it each day.

"Breast cancer is 98 percent curable if it's diagnosed in an early enough stage," she noted prior to last night's festivities. "If we can get people talking about it (as regularly) as paying taxes, then all good things will come out of that."


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