When John "Jay" McAvoy, a legendary figure in Pop Warner football in New Milford, died on May 22, he "left big shoes to fill," said his son, Kevin.

"So many people talk about the importance in their lives of their moment to shine on the playing field in Pop Warner," Kevin McAvoy said Monday. "That was one of the things my dad always went out of his way for -- to give kids that chance to shine."

Jay McAvoy helped start the New Milford Bulls' Pop Warner football program in the early 1970s. He coached Pop Warner's Bulls team -- the oldest of the program's divisions -- for 14 years.

He was known to the kids as "Papa Bull" but he also coached youth basketball through the Parks & Recreation league.

Lou Heaton, who played on the Bulls as an 11-year-old, and now coaches youth sports, spoke highly Monday of Mr. McAvoy.

"I was a bigger kid when I played," Lou Heaton said. "I might have been ruled out because of my size but Jay allowed me to play. He was very good about creating opportunities for kids.

"Jay taught us the value of discipline and hard work," Mr. Heaton said. "He taught me the most important thing in life is helping others and being there for kids."

John Heaton, Lou's father, worked with Mr. McAvoy at Metropolitan Insurance Company, from which Mr. McAvoy retired as a salesman after 30 years.

"He was a terrific guy, a real mover," John Heaton said. "He coached all three of my boys in Pop Warner. They thought the world of him."

Mr. McAvoy was remembered as taking on life head on. In 1989, he had a liver transplant, when the operation was still considered an "uncustomary" surgery. He was given five more years to live by doctors at the time, Kevin McAvoy recalled.

He would go on to live two more decades to the age of 75.

Because of the unique nature of the surgery, the insurance company left the McAvoys responsible for some $350,000 in medical bills.

"A group of people who had worked with Dad in youth sports got together and held a fundraiser. The town got behind it and the full amount owed by my family was raised," Kevin McAvoy said.

"There were jars in local diners and bars," he said. "People were donating $10 or $20. I still have a bumper sticker that says `I Love Papa Bull.' I'm bringing it to the calling hours Tuesday."