With nearly three decades of experience working with athletes from 12 years old through high school, nine-time state championship football coach Kevin Kelley saw a gap to be filled when it came to development opportunities for younger children. Kelley hopes that his new center, dubbed Kid Champion, will be just the place to bridge this divide by giving kids of all backgrounds the chance to develop confidence and build community.
“Middle school is tough on kids,” Kelley said. “When you get into that age group, you can see that some kids are more advanced than others when it comes to their motor skills. It can affect their confidence if they start comparing themselves to the other kids.”
By focusing on children up to 11- years- old, Kid Champion will give younger kids the opportunity to get “plugged in” sooner, bolstering motor and social skills through age-specific curricula and classes that will celebrate every success, no matter how small.
The center, located at 11400 North Rodney Parham Rd., will feature two 1,750 square-foot fitness areas with cushioned floors, padded walls and a variety of age-appropriate equipment like sleds, ropes, obstacle courses and jumping blocks.
Kelley emphasized that the skills children learn through their time at Kid Champion will have benefits regardless of if they go on to play sports at school. Physical activity has been shown to positively impact academic performance and mental health; activities like overcoming a fear of heights by trying the rock wall or learning to balance by walking across rubber river rocks will teach kids to persevere through challenges in everyday life.
Also at the helm of the project is Kelley’s son Zack, who has a degree in education and has been learning how to coach from his dad since he was 12-years-old, according to Kelley. Zack has the advantage of having been on both ends of the coaching process. His time playing sports through high school and college allows him to understand what works best from both the player’s standpoint and the coach’s. He has had a large hand in shaping the classes at Kid Champion so that kids are not only supported physically, but psychologically as well.
It’s not just the kids who will learn a thing or two, however. The center will have a large viewing window where parents can see what’s going on, and Kelley believes that by sticking around, parents will learn how to better coach their own kids and others. The adage “it takes a village” is at the heart of what Kid Champion is trying to build, and Kelley wants to create a community focused on developing the whole child.
In addition, parents can rest easy knowing that each staff member will have passed a criminal background check conducted by Arkansas State Police. There will also be at least one working employee certified in CPR, AED and First Aid available at all times.
Kelley summarized what he hopes families will take away from Kid Champion once their child ages out of the program. Using a portfolio model, parents will be able to track the growth of their children the longer they’re involved. Down the road, when Kelley asks parents if it was worth it to put their kids through the whole program from walking-age to middle school, Kelley wants the answer to be “an overwhelming yes.”
Kelley is confident that the center will fulfill an obvious need in Central Arkansas, and outside investment in the project has only solidified that belief. John Flake and Pete Biagioni are the primary financial investors in Kid Champion, and Kelley said he was thrilled to have their support. “These guys have grandchildren, and even from a business perspective they can see the benefit of something like this,” Kelley said.
Barring any unforeseen delays in construction, Kelley hopes to have the center open between Oct. 1 and Oct. 15. Although the program is still in its early days, the eventual vision is to expand the reach of Kid Champion to every corner of the state.
“It’s fulfilling work, and we’re hoping to make a career out of helping others,” Kelley added. “We really want to give back to the community and teach confidence, perseverance, and life lessons.”
More information about Kid Champion is available here.