LAWRENCE — As a junior in high school, Steve Kelley’s father took away his basketball privileges when he got a C in English for turning in a homework late.
“I love to play basketball and I remember being so mad. I tried to make a deal with my father and pleaded with him, but he would not budge,” Kelley recalls. “That stayed with me my whole life because he took away what I loved and I vowed it would never happen again. It was the biggest eye-opener of my life.”
For the past 50 years, Kelley has used that same lesson as a basketball coach at the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence. This week, he stepped down as coach, but will remain at the club which has been his second home since 1966, helping students fill out applications for private high schools and colleges, tutoring during study hour, and acting as an assistant to the coaches.
“I won’t give basketball up. It’s still a tool that I can use to help the kids,” Kelley said.
On Friday, the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence hosted “Toast the Coach” where fellow staff members, alumni and friends honored Kelley for his half-century of coaching.
“He means everything to me,” said Socrates de la Cruz, who was named National Youth of the Year in 1991. “He has been a father figure, an anchor during emotional times, a friend, a mentor and a big brother.”
De la Cruz, an attorney in Lawrence, said Kelley’s best qualities include his selflessness, compassion and big heart.
“He taught me to persevere and that life is not always going to be the way you want it to be. There will be ups and downs, but be yourself and always be prepare to help someone else, not as a handout but teaching them how to fish.”