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Sea of Pink

A sea of pink invaded Notre Dame this week at the third annual Football 101 fundraising event hosted by the Kelly Cares Foundation.

Paqui Kelly hosted Notre Dame's third annual Football 101 event Tuesday night.

Nearly 600 women, clad in their special issue Carmen rose-colored Notre Dame jerseys, descended on the Irish football team practice facilities Tuesday night for a crash course on the sport’s basics from assistant coaches and players. They raised money, breast cancer awareness and a little bit of hell on the gridiron and inside the Guglielmino Complex.

“It’s a great venue,” said Paqui Kelly, wife of head coach Brian Kelly and the creator of the event. “When you think of girls’ night out this is just a great way of just being together and sharing. Some of these people are here in memory of people and some of them are here to share.”

Kelly said the greatest benefit of the yearly event is a chance for her and other breast cancer survivors to share their stories and to urge other women to be proactive about their health. She is 2-0 in her battles with cancer during the past decade while raising three young children and helping her husband on his swift rise through the college football coaching ranks.

In 2008, while Brian Kelly was coaching at Cincinnati and Paqui was finishing her second bout with the disease, they started a non-profit foundation to raise money for the cause. When Kelly came to Notre Dame it morphed into the Kelly Cares Foundation and has held multiple events each year for a variety of causes. A spokeswoman said the group hoped to raise $148,000 from Football 101 and a fall golf outing this year. The 148 number comes from the fact that one in every eight women will fight the cancer during their life.

Kelly is not shy about telling her story while mixing in a few laughs about coming to grips with the “$120,000 perm” chemotherapy provided for her or her adjustments to wearing a wig for a brief time.

“I just had a woman come up to me a few minutes ago and she said, ‘I don’t know if you remember me but I was bald last year when I came.’ — her hair’s a lot longer now — ‘and I just want to say, Hi and thank you because you helped me get through it,’” Kelly said Tuesday night. “That makes it all worth it when you feel like you’ve made a difference and helped someone get through it. It’s not a pancake walk, but it’s a walk that you can get through, and it makes a difference. If I can help them in that way, I’m glad and fortunate to tell my story.”

After a reception on the practice field, the Football 101 students broke into groups and ran through offense, defense and special teams drills conducted by the Irish coaches and players. They also sat through chalk talk sessions about the rules of the game and the recruiting process. The highlight of the night, though, was the much-anticipated football fashion show, which featured members of the team strutting the catwalk.

One noticeably absent member of the team was head coach Brian Kelly, who missed for the first time while he was at home recovering from back surgery. Kelly went under the knife last Thursday to fix a herniated disc that had been hurting him since the end of the 2011 season. Paqui said he was doing his best to be patient with the rehab process.

“He’s on injured reserve today, and he doesn’t really do injured reserve very well,” she said. “But he’s being a good patient and doing things he needs to do to get up and running just like he’d expect from his own players.”

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