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Henry offers summer camp for disabled youth

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

The Henry County Parks and Recreation Department's Therapeutic Recreation group is hosting its very first Adaptive Sports Summer Camp, for young people with physical disabilities. The two-week camp is being held at the Locust Grove Recreation Center.

According to Harlon Matthews, camp director and wheelchair sports coordinator, 11 campers between ages 9 and 20 are participating in sports and activities including football and hand-cycling, with a major emphasis on wheelchair mobility.

Matthews said the camp is designed to benefit disabled students by getting them involved in sports and providing them with a positive experience.

"We're creating physical activities for them," he said. "What we're trying to do is help them create healthy lifestyles."

The camp began June 15, and runs through Friday. Matthews said he is seeing positive changes in the children enrolled in the program.

"After only a half day of camp, all of them were having a blast, and nothing but smiles and laughter could be heard," he said. "What I love most about this is that these kids are now experiencing things they can do, and not what they can't."

Seven of the 11 campers have participated in wheelchair sports, according to Matthews, and have competed on the Henry County interscholastic team, the Henry Hurricanes.

The team was created last year, and it already has a strong track record. The Henry Hurricanes won the state Junior Varsity Wheelchair Basketball Championship for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Matthews said.

Matthews said he hopes the experiences the students have playing sports will empower them to take what they learn, and apply it to their lives in general. "We want them to take that good feeling they get on the [basketball] court, and transition that to everything they do in life," he said.

The message emphasized to the campers, said Matthews, is that they no longer need to be passive spectators. "Traditionally, these are the kids sitting on the sidelines," he said.

During the camp, 15- to 30-minute "life skills" sessions are held daily, to boost campers' self-esteem. Matthews said that during Monday's session, a representative from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, who coaches a basketball team at the center, spoke to the campers. The theme of the address was "No is not an option," and the coach told them about collegiate scholarship opportunities for the disabled.

The camp runs through Friday, but Matthews said there are ongoing sports and recreational opportunities offered for the disabled.

For more information, call (770) 228-7293.