Camp 24 will be different

Marvin Westwestwords

Todd Kelly Jr.’s Camp 24 will offer meaningful instruction in football fundamentals for young people.

And a T-shirt.

And an unforgettable message.

Kelly, former University of Tennessee defensive back, and several of his friends plan to transform Saturday, July 9, into a very special time for participants, ages 7 to 14. The half-day camp will include how-to-do-it, developmental drills and no-pads competition shaped to fit.

Camp 24 will be at Sansom Sports Complex, 234 Dale Avenue in Knoxville, next door to the Fort Sanders community, 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. Register here.

Camp fee is $60. Here’s where this gathering is different: Proceeds will be donated to Emerald Youth and Zaevion Dobson Memorial foundations.

Zaevion Dobson

“I am a native of Knoxville who now makes a living in my hometown (wealth management associate for The Trust Company of Tennessee). I want to give back to my community and help young football players realize their dreams,” said Kelly.

“The name of the camp honors the memory of the late Zaevion Dobson, who sacrificed his life to save friends from gunfire.”

Twenty-four was Dobson’s jersey number as a sophomore football player at Fulton High School.

“Emerald Youth Foundation will be a beneficiary of the camp because of its track record of success in guiding youth on and off the field of play.”

Here comes the bonus part for campers:

On Dec. 17, 2015, happy young people, on the front porch of the Dobson residence in Lonsdale, were warming up for the Christmas holidays. Drive-by gunners were shooting up the neighborhood. The students, none known to associate with gangsters, were suddenly in the line of fire.

Zaevion, 15, a good guy with courage beyond his years, dived atop two girls to shelter them with his body. When the shooting stopped, Faith Gordon told him he could get up.

But he didn’t. He was the only one who had been hit. He died. A lot of us felt the hurt.

I recalled something my grandmother once said, that true character shows when the need is greatest, when times are tough. I do believe incoming bullets create a crisis. Zaevion had a choice. He could have fled. He risked his life saving others. He was a hero.

Rob Black, Fulton High coach for 30 years, said Dobson was “a fine, fine young man who was a success story.”

Black wanted to celebrate “the impact he made on his peers.”

Dobson’s brother, Zack, said it was the teenager’s dream to be a really good player or a coach.

Dobson’s mother, Zenobia, said Zaevion “could light up a room.”

Fulton students and church friends held a candlelight vigil. With candles, they created the outline of 24, his football number.

Knoxville created a recreation park in his honor. ESPN presented the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. President Barack Obama wiped his eyes as he used Zaevion’s death in a gun-control speech.

There was no valid criticism of Knoxville police. The investigation was deliberate. Three suspects were arrested. A rap video they had made months previously was part of the evidence. There was talk of gang rivalry.

Knox County Criminal Court Judge Steven Sword sentenced Christopher Drone Bassett to life plus 35 years in prison; Richard Gregory Williams III to 143 years; and Kipling Deshawn Colbert to 109 years. Conviction and penalties withstood appeal.

Todd Kelly was deeply affected by it all.

“I wanted to make sure that Zaevion’s legacy didn’t end on that porch. I felt a sense of urgency to represent him, so that his name could live on.”

The Kelly name lives on. Todd Jr. was a second-generation Volunteer (two interceptions off Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield). Todd Sr. was an all-American defensive end, NFL first-round draft choice.

When young Kelly spoke of “a talented young man who had such a bright future,” it made an impact. When he changed his football number from 6 to Zaevion’s 24, some of us said wow. Numbers are often very special, very personal.

Todd said his change was a token of appreciation.

“With the platform that I had been given, the thought of keeping his name alive became a mission and a duty.”

And that’s why there is a forthcoming Camp 24. Let us hope it becomes an annual event and makes a difference.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is


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