Campers were given T-shirts and lunch at former NFL player Keith Rucker's Rise 4 the Sky camp at H-F Saturday. (David P. Funk/H-F Chronicle)
Feature, Sports

Football pro’s camp asks H-F kids to Reach 4 The Sky

Harvey native Keith Rucker named his foundation with intention.

The former NFL player hosts football camps with Reach 4 The Sky. When the charity was forming and logos were being considered, one with a figure reaching over the Chicago skyline just spoke to him. Reach 4 The Sky was born.

  • Campers were given T-shirts and lunch at former NFL player Keith Rucker's Rise 4 the Sky camp at H-F Saturday. (David P. Funk/H-F Chronicle)
    Campers were given T-shirts and lunch at former NFL player Keith Rucker's Rise 4 the Sky camp at H-F Saturday. (David P. Funk/H-F Chronicle)

Rucker and his team of coaches were at Homewood-Flossmoor High School July 9 and 10 to host a free football and cheerleading camp for kids 6 to 14 years old.

“A former teammate of mine in the NFL was having a camp and there were kids coming who couldn’t participate because it cost $300 per kid. I went home and told my wife I wanted to start something to help the kids who couldn’t afford it,” Rucker said. “I was just trying to give something to the kids that we didn’t have growing up.”

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Rucker played five seasons in the NFL in the 1990s, including two for the Bengals in Cincinnati. He still lives in the Queen City. 

Reach 4 The Sky began hosting camps in the Cincinnati and Chicago areas 17 years ago. The local one was in Matteson until last year, when it moved to H-F. Rucker had a previous relationship with Vikings football coach Terrell Alexander, so when the camp needed a new home Homewood-Flossmoor was a good fit.

“We were supposed to start at 8:30 this morning and people were here at 7:50,” Rucker said. 

Football campers are taught some of the fundamentals of the game. Every player rotates through multiple positions in both offensive and defensive drills and plays 7-on-7. Spirit campers are taught the basics of cheerleading and dance. 

Some of the coaches were H-F football players who volunteered. Others were friends of Rucker. He pays the travel expenses of the coaches coming from Cincinnati. 

All the campers were given T-shirts and lunch.

“I just want to say to the kids ‘I walked in the same streets as you. You can get there and these are the tools that you need but you’ve got to do some work, too,’” he said. “What I really love is when kids grow up and grow out of our foundation, they come back and volunteer. It’s teaching them how to give back.” 

Jamie Freeman was a coach as a high school freshman at the first Reach 4 The Sky camps in 2004 in Ohio. Now 31, he hasn’t missed one since. Freeman was directing drills in Flossmoor Saturday.

“It’s about the kids. It’s all about the kids. Coach Ruck was all about the kids and he just rubbed off on me,” Freeman said. “I think it was my destiny just to be a servant to the younger generation. Football is just an outlet to life.” 

Rucker expects Freeman will take over the camp some day. 

“We hope to try to help them be better people, be more intentional about building relationships and just be respectful on and off the field,” Freeman said. “We want them to be good football players but we let them know that their character will take them further than football.” 

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