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The First Specialty Sports Camp in the Country

The story behind Mike Farley’s Kickers Camp is more than you might think… a lot more.

It wasn’t me, it was my father, Mike Farley Sr. who was the new Head Football Coach at UW-River Falls.  He took the job in 1970, but found that recruiting kids to River Falls, Wisconsin wasn’t as easy as he thought.  Even though it has a beautiful campus and is just 30 minutes from the Twin Cities, the problem was that Minnesota athletes never considered a Wisconsin state school (even though there is reciprocity), and Wisconsin athletes didn’t really consider it because there are so many other Wisconsin state schools nearer to them (i.e. Whitewater, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Oshkosh, etc.).  And, unless you’re actually driving to River Falls, you’ll never pass by it on any trip.

So Coach Farley thought up a plan.  Why not hold a football “camp” and invite kids to attend — primarily to see what a neat university it is.  House them in the dorms, have them eat at the commons, enjoy the amenities of the campus during their camp visit.

It worked.

Not only did he get high schoolers from Wisconsin and Minnesota, but from all over the country.  The first camp was the Kickers Camp, followed by a Wishbone Camp, Big O & Big D Camp and a Baseball Hitters Camp, too!

The Kickers Camp featured the professional stars of the time for many years, including: Jan Stenerud, Fred Cox, Jim Bakken, Tom Dempsey, Chester Marcol, Eddie Murray, Bucky Scribner and more.  His first camp also featured snappers and holders (but few wanted to snap or hold for a week) with Mick Tinglehoff and Paul Krause.

There was one other instructor that Coach Farley brought in to teach, Edward “Doc” Storey.  A kindly old gentlemen who made it his mission to study the mechanics and mindset of great kickers and punters.  His expertise even helped get Mike Farley’s Kickers Camp featured in Sports Illustrated with an article by Rick Telander.

It’s at these camps that Coach Farley’s sons helped work — shagging balls, picking up tees, handing out t-shirts and even feeding the campers hot dogs at night.  I just happened to become a camper, then a collegiate counselor and finally a guy to help run the camps.  Great training for what this iteration of Mike Farley’s Kickers Camp is to become.

By the early 1980’s, my father had a choice with the success of these camps — give up coaching because and continue the camps full time, or let the camps go and continue to do what he did best, coach football and win championships. He chose the latter.

Other kicking camps popped up across the country due to his departure, but they all owe a debt of gratitude to the originator of the specialty sports camp — my father, Mike Farley.

Caption for the picture above:  Coach Farley is the tall guy in the sweater on the left, while Kansas City Chiefs kicker, Jan Stenerud, attempts a straight on field goal with a square toed shoe (borrowed from St. Louis Cardinals kicker, Jim Bakken).  This is the only time Jan ever attempted such a thing! It did not go well. Jan was one of the very first soccer-style kickers in the NFL and a great ambassador of the game (and is one of only two kickers to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame).