Neil Bradley Keller, or Mr. K as he was known to the Skip Wizards, was a phenomenal coach, teacher, father, and friend. Mr. K was diagnosed with Leukemia in 1994 and passed away in December 1995. Jump rope was a different sport back then. He passed away prior to the first National Tournament in Disney World, and was unable to attend the first Junior Olympic tournament due to chemotherapy treatments. He was a young, energetic, and vibrant physical education teacher at a small school in Maryland. Mr. Keller had seen a jump rope team at a physical education conference and requested the team to come to his school to help promote Jump Rope for Heart. He joined the Maryland State task force to fight heart disease and worked with the American Heart Association in MD to spread the word about jump rope. After the River Valley Skippers came to Valley Elementary school, the Skip Wizards jump rope team was created. Neil Keller inspired the entire school, with over 20 kids joining the team in the first year. Mr. Keller was an excellent baseball player in high school, and could have easily been a high school baseball coach, yet he chose the path less traveled – to start a jump rope team. He chose a sport that would give young people an opportunity to travel, to learn how to be on a team, and a sport where competitions have a friendly and cooperative spirit to them. The Skip Wizards have been in existence longer since he has been gone, yet his memory still lives on with those who had the opportunity to meet and learn from him.

He always told us "Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect." Now he wasn’t telling us that we weren’t allowed to make mistakes and learn new things at practice, he was stressing the importance of not settling with mistakes. For those people who heard this over and over at jump rope practice, it has made a significant impact on their lives. Mr. Keller’s concept can be translated into any aspect of life, and it resonates with those who knew him best.

Mr. Keller was so much more than a coach to those that had the opportunity to learn from him. He wasn’t just a coach – he was involved in his jumpers’ daily lives. He cared about them and was a big part in their lives. Mr. Keller was also our "dad" away from home, which made our parents extremely comfortable since they had no need to worry while we were in his care. They knew he was always taking care of us and had our best interests in mind...even if we were sick or nervous, he always knew how to handle us! We were a real family outside of our families at home!


He was more than just a teacher to those that went to Valley Elementary School. During his fight with Leukemia, the entire school made a large banner, where every student made a handprint in paint on it, and wrote notes to him on the banner. He had made an impact on every student in the school, and he was truly missed.

Mr. Keller passed away at the young age of 32 after an almost year-long fight with Leukemia. He made a tremendous impression on the lives of anyone who interacted with him and continues to influence others today. Those that were on his jump rope team know the influence he has had on their lives, and they continue to try to pass on his legacy, either through jump rope, through their careers, or by being a role model to other people.​

Neil Keller Award Recipients

  • 1997 - Jim McCleary

  • 1998 - Roger Crozier

  • 1999 - John Swan

  • 2000 - Richard Cendali

  • 2001 - Dennis Canady

  • 2002 - Randy Modesitt

  • 2003 - Paul Mullin

  • 2004 - E.J. Boillot

  • 2005 - Shaun Hamilton

  • 2006 - Dennis Canady

  • 2007 - Johnny Johnson

  • 2008 - John Wellman

  • 2009 - Eric Cornell

  • 2010 - Ray Fredrick, Jr.

  • 2011 - Tim Rader

  • 2012 - John Hammond

  • 2013 - David Cazares

  • 2014 - Gary Anderson

  • 2015 - Ryan Lupton

  • 2016 - Paul Feciura

  • 2017 - Dillon Bethell

  • 2018 - Stephen Materia

  • 2019 - Gary Schwartz