Hugs were being passed around as much as footballs.
The first session of this year's Global Down Syndrome Dare to Play Football Camp was held June 3 at Valor Christian High School. It is affiliated and runs simultaneously with a Dare to Cheer clinic, which was held at Sports Authority Stadium and Valor.
Game day is set for June 14 at Valor between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. with football games and cheerleaders performing prior to a celebration party. The games will kick-off with two members of the Thunderstorm Skydiving team landing in the stadium. Several Denver Broncos and Broncos cheerleaders will be in attendance.
Campers and their buddy partners from the Valor Christian football team went through drills that usually ended with hugs and high-fives. The camp, developed by former Denver Bronco Ed McCaffrey, the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, Sie Center physical therapist Patricia C. Winders and Valor coaches, teaches core touch football skills to the participants who also partake in team-building activities.
“It's great,” said Valor senior Sabastian Sock. “I'm loving it. It's great being out here with all these guys. This is one of everyone's favorite times. It's really nice to come out and be able to show football to these kids.”
McCaffrey, a former NFL wide receiver, launched the camp in 2010.
I was introduced to Michelle Sie Whitten (Global co-founder and Executive Director) by my buddy Luke Stahmer,” related McCaffrey. “He knew that I had been running football camps for a long time. She (Whitten) was interested in creating an opportunity for young men and women with Down syndrome to play the sport of football and have a team activity.
“I said I don't see why we couldn't put a camp together. Our coaches coach the game, these guys want to play. If you get campers to sign up, I'd be happy to come out and teach them the game of football and give them an opportunity to have some fun with their friends. Unfortunately there are not a lot of opportunities for young men and women with Down syndrome to participate in team activities. I wasn't aware of that until she informed me of that fact. We've got to change that. If there's anything that I know, it's football so I said let's start with a football camp. They do a cheer camp as well.”
There were 40 campers at the start of this year's camp, almost double in size from the first camp four years ago.
“We are so grateful to Ed McCaffrey for helping us put this camp together and to the Denver Broncos cheerleaders who spearhead our Dare to Cheer camp,” said Whitten. “With the help of the Sie Center at Children's Hospital we are able to provide a safe and nurturing environment where the participants learn to play football and cheer.
“Our first year we had several fathers actually tear up because they never thought that they would see their son play football. The joy this brings to our campers, their families and equally to the Valor Christian players really is more than we could ever hope for.''
McCaffrey has scored a touchdown with this camp.
“Every year we look forward to the kids coming out,” said McCaffrey. “You can see they are smiling, high-fiving and having fun with their friends. They are learning the sport and they are playing the game of football.”