Prep football: 'Champions' Camp' makes kids part of the Spartans
The annual event is available at no cost to school-age children with disabilities.
SUPERIOR — Fourteen-year-old Aiden Barnes had a great day Monday at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex.
The Superior High School student donned a jersey and went through several practice drills like a touchdown dive, tackling drill and several others. Even better, as things got started Aiden and several others were introduced over a loudspeaker — just like the Spartans on Friday night — and ran through a tunnel of Superior players, high-fiving each on his way through.
As he ran through the team chanted, “Aiden, Aiden, Aiden” as he ran through and a huge cheer erupted as he passed — something that happens with each of the other participants.
Superior’s “Champions’ Camp” is an annual event that gives kids with special needs a chance to practice football.
“We just want to give everybody an opportunity to experience some of the things that maybe they wouldn’t normally be able to experience,” Spartan coach Bob DeMeyer said. “It’s a social thing, it’s a chance to learn, grow and have some fun.”
The day might have been a little sweeter for Aiden. He was born with a number of bone and muscular problems, including hips with 40% displacement. The hip problem required a 14-hour surgery to correct, according to Aiden’s grandfather, Don Johnson.
Aiden still uses a wheelchair when out in the community for extended periods, but soon he will have a tibial derotational osteotomy. The procedure involves cracking the tibia and fibula and rotating them into the correct position and using screws to keep the bones in place while they heal.
The surgery will keep Aiden in the wheelchair for another 10 weeks while he recovers, so Monday was a little extra special, Johnson said.
The Champions Camp began several years ago and allows kids who might not be able to get out on the field regularly a chance to experience some of the same things a typical football player may go through. It is available at no cost to all school-age children.
Braelyn Whitford, another 14-year-old Superior student, has participated for several years and can’t wait to come out, according to her dad, Matt Whitford. It’s also something that warms the hearts of her family.
“Being able to see her partake with her peers from high school and seeing the normal kids interact with the special needs kids and how much the support them is absolutely awesome to see,” Whitford said. “She’s done this for quite a few years — she looks forward to doing this because this is one of the best things that she loves to do.”
Braelyn wasn’t shy when she identified her favorite activity of the day.
“Catching the ball,” she said, with more than a little enthusiasm.
Spartans seniors Will Lampton and Jason Thomas helped DeMeyer organize and run the event as part of their service project DeMeyer requires of his team captains.
“It’s our way of giving back to people with special needs who don’t get to experience how we get to experience football,” Thomas said. “We try to just give them a little slice of what football is.”
“‘All means all’ is a big part of what we do in our district and it applies to our football program, too,” DeMeyer said. “We want to show everyone how much we appreciate their support and we want people to know that there’s ways to be involved in our program and ways to be involved in our school district. This is one way we can show that appreciation and those opportunities.”
The experience isn’t just incredibly fun for Braelyn, Aiden and the other participants, it gives everyone else a little perspective too.
“It gets people a little bit out of their comfort zone and it allows people to see that (special needs kids) can do things other kids can do, just at a different pace,” Whitford said. “It also helps them understand what their abilities are and to create the friendships that they have with the students at school.”