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Center Grove football team tackles project for special needs kids

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Sizing up her opponents, Brittany Arwine charged in for the tackle.

The 6-year-old Indianapolis girl was severely outsized by the two Center Grove High School football players standing in front of her.

But that didn’t stop her from giggling as she pushed both the older boys over into a large foam pad, then throwing her hands up in excitement.

“Yeah, we did it!” she said.

Brittany was one of 18 children from all over the Indianapolis area who traded the traditional day camp experience for the gridiron. As part of a weeklong Camp-Ability program for special needs children, Center Grove hosted a unique football camp for the kids.

Some of the children ran cone drills to show off their speed, while others threw spirals to Center Grove wide receivers streaking down the field.

The kids were given their own lockers, tried on a helmet and ran onto the field through the inflatable helmet tunnel as their names were called over the loudspeaker.

“The kids do so well here,” said Joelle Samples, manager of respite services for Easter Seals Crossroads and organizer of CampAbility. “They have the ability to experience being out here with the football players, who are passionate about working with  this population.”

Zoe Neal-Gibson, 8, from Fishers, let the other kids play football games. She was transfixed by the Center Grove cheerleaders.

She held black-and-red pompoms above her head, shaking them as the cheerleaders formed pyramids and formations at her direction.

When she wanted to see them jump or cheer, she pantomimed what she hoped to see.

“I don’t want to do it — you do it,” she said.

After they completed the routines, she laughed loudly, throwing her pompoms up in the air and clapping wildly.

“They’re in their element. They can run around and have fun without worrying about what they’re doing,” Samples said.

This was the second year that Center Grove had hosted the CampAbility children. The camp is aimed at kids ages 4 to 11 with a wide variety of special needs, such as Down syndrome and autism.

The football camp was the idea of the players and coaches.

A group of Center Grove players were looking for ways to reach out to the community, and they approached their coach, Eric Moore. The coach thought it would be a great idea, and the team went to work planning the camp.

“We try to make it one of the committed things we do for the public and for character development each summer,” Moore said. “We want to give back a little bit.”

For the players, it provides a chance to meet and interact with special needs children, serving as role models.

“It’s a pleasure to help these kids out. They might be struggling in life, and this gets their mind off of the troubles they might have for a day, to have some fun,” senior Max Norris said.

Before the camp, all of the players and coaches had to be trained to work with children with disabilities. Each drill and activity was reviewed with an Easter Seals employee to adapt it for the kids taking part.

Some kids would be able to run, tackle and throw the ball with ease. Others might have to have help bouncing on the big foam tackling pads or need to be pulled in a wagon around the field.

But all would get to participate, Moore said.

“The theme for the camp is ‘happy, happy, happy,’” he said. “I don’t care if they’re going to Kings Island later this summer, this will be the best day they have all summer. That’s our goal.”

Donovan Bostick stood in front of the locker with his name on it, staring up at the pads and helmet hanging inside.

Pointing to the shoulder pads, the 8-year-old Indianapolis boy lifted his arms over his head so that his Center Grove escorts could help him put the pads on.

He wouldn’t take the pads off for the rest of the camp.

“I like football,” he said. “I don’t know a favorite player, but I like the Colts. They’re my favorite team.”

Senior Logan Tharpe helped escort Donovan from station to station.

“I love helping people have an experience they might not otherwise have. I like to give someone the chance to see what we do and do it themselves,” he said.

One of the favorite things at the camp is the water trough the football team had set up. As a big fan of swimming and other water activities at CampAbility, Donovan was particularly interested in the stand.

By pushing a nozzle, a jet of cold water helped cool him off after running around the field.

“My favorite thing is water,” he said.

Donovan’s brother, 6-year-old Aidan Bostick, also is a big football fan. Clutching the football in both hands, he whipped it as far as he could, sending the Center Grove players standing around him running down the field to catch his pass.

Despite his prowess as a passer, Aidan preferred a different position.

“I like being a running back,” he said.

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