Operation Back to the Field

Amare 1Amare Small, age 9, pens his first book.

Written by Lindsey Lowe  

Photography by Eric Dejuan


Amare Small definitely learned his lesson. When he was 7—just two years ago—he played on a Little League football team. It was his second year, and as youngsters sometimes have a tendency to do, he soon developed some problems listening to his coaches, his mom, Apryl Kelly, says. “Amare went to football practice one day and decided he knew more than the coaches,” she explains. “At this point, [Amare] wasn’t coachable, because if you know everything, they can’t teach you anything.” To teach Amare the importance of humility and learning, his parents decided to pull him out of football. “We told him, ‘If you can’t listen and learn, you can’t play, because that’s how you get hurt,’” she says. As you might guess, Amare, who loved the sport, wasn’t very happy about it. He began a campaign to persuade his parents to let him play again; even other parents of kids on the Little League team implored Amare’s parents to allow him to play, but they stood their ground. “[Amare] said, ‘My life is over!’” Kelly says with a smile. “He would tell me all of these crazy stories every day about how his life was ruined because he wasn’t playing Little League football.” 

One night, Kelly had the idea to help Amare pen a story about his experience. She figured it would give them something to do and increase his love for reading at the same time. “My mom made me do it, but I am happy she did,” Amare says of writing the book.

“At first, we were doing it as a joke,” she says. “He would tell me the story of what happened, and I would type it out in book format. We would read it and just laugh, because he could see how ridiculous he actually sounded. [He would say things like], ‘Mom, did you notice how I told you dinner was good?’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, I noticed.’ So he’d say, ‘Well, it was just Hamburger Helper.’ And I’d say, ‘I know it was Hamburger Helper.’ And he’d say, ‘So I’m still not playing football?’ And I’d say, ‘Nope.’” When Amare decided he wanted to share his book with his friends, Kelly thought it might be nice to somehow make it into a real book.

She ended up going the self-publishing route, using an illustration by Jin Chung, an art student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, for the cover. She took some photos of Amare for the back cover, and then she put it all together into Operation Back to the Field, a 36-page book about Amare’s determination to return to football. “I had to order 100 books, and I thought my husband was going to kill me,” Kelly says. “I had to spend $600 on those books.” But she went ahead and ordered them, and then she put it on Facebook, offering them for sale. In the first hour, Operation Back to the Field had sold all 100 copies of its first printing, and by the next day, they had sold 300. “All of a sudden we were getting orders from Wisconsin, Florida, everywhere,” she says. She got Amare involved with promoting the book, sharing videos of him talking it up. For his birthday that year, he celebrated with a book signing, with some 120 people coming to have their books signed. But even better than the book signing was when Amare got to meet Cam Newton, his football hero. “Amare’s five minutes [with Cam] turned into 22 minutes, to the point where they had to make Cam stop,” she says.

Kelly says she’s teaching her kids (Amare has a baby sister) that there’s no limit to what they can dream. That’s why when Amare said, “Mom, it would be cool if this was a cartoon,” she told him they’d go for it. After all, it couldn’t hurt to try. So in January of 2014, they embarked on a new endeavor: To make the book into a movie. First, Amare and some of his friends got into a studio and recorded a soundtrack with Ricardo Johnson from Eco Beats. Then they began filming, making a 45-minute animated movie (they’ve also written out 22 episodes of an animated TV show) with local animator Michael Thoenes. They should wrap up filming by the end of this year and are hoping to sell it to a TV network. It’s a far cry from stapling a stack of computer paper to make a book, which was their original plan. “God blessed this project, and that’s why it’s so successful,” Amare says.

At Amare’s career day last year, he shared big dreams: play for the NFL (which he can do since he’s back in football this year) and eventually purchase an NFL team. Kelly knows, then, that her own dream is coming true: Amare believes he is capable of anything. “Whatever dreams they have, I want to help them come true,” she says. “I think kids should live by experiences. Life is about experiences.”

To order Operation Back to the Field, visit operationback.com

One Response to “Operation Back to the Field”

  1. Regina Duffey says:

    This is a great article. It let’s other young persons know that if you set goals and work hard, you can accomplish them. Amare has set his goals and is striving to reach them. A young man that parents would be proud to call “son”. Good job Am are and mom.

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