We see that you have javascript disabled. Please enable javascript and refresh the page to continue reading local news. If you feel you have received this message in error, please contact the customer support team at 1-833-248-7801.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Prep football: 'Champions' Camp' makes kids part of the Spartans

The annual event is available at no cost to school-age children with disabilities.

Aiden Barnes (72) grins from ear to ear as he greets the Superior Spartan football team
Aiden Barnes (72) grins from ear to ear as he greets the Superior Spartan football team after being announced during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
We are part of The Trust Project.

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.

Aiden Barnes (72) celebrates with the Superior Spartan football team after throwing a football into a garbage can during Champions Camp
Aiden Barnes (72) celebrates with the Superior Spartan football team after throwing a football into a garbage can during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“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.”

ADVERTISEMENT

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.

Drake Peters (27) smiles as he tosses the football during Champions Camp
Drake Peters (27) smiles as he tosses the football during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

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.

Braelyn Whitford (53) gives out high fives to the Superior Spartan football team as she runs down the chute after being announced during Champions Camp
Braelyn Whitford (53) gives out high fives to the Superior Spartan football team as she runs down the chute after being announced during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“Catching the ball,” she said, with more than a little enthusiasm.

ADVERTISEMENT

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.”

The Spartan football team watches as Timothy Jakubek Jr. dives onto the mat during Champions Camp
The Spartan football team watches as Timothy Jakubek Jr. dives onto the mat during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“‘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.

Dante Stucke (37) throws a pass during Champions Camp
Dante Stucke (37) throws a pass during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

“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.”

More from Jamey Malcomb
The three coaches graduated from the school in the early 1990s and ended up playing college football together at Valley City State in North Dakota.

Members of the Spartan football team erupt into cheers as Braelyn Whitford (53) dives onto a mat during Champions Camp
Members of the Spartan football team erupt into cheers as Braelyn Whitford (53) dives onto a mat during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Drake Peters (27) smiles as he is cheered on during Champions Camp
Drake Peters (27) smiles as he is cheered on during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Braelyn Whitford (53) laughs as she tackles a blocking pad during Champions Camp
Braelyn Whitford (53) laughs as she tackles a blocking pad during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Drake Peters (27) boots a ball off the tee during Champions Camp
Drake Peters (27) boots a ball off the tee during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Dante Stucke (37) runs up before blasting the tackling dummy in front of the Spartan football team during Champions Camp
Dante Stucke (37) runs up before blasting the tackling dummy in front of the Spartan football team during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Timothy Jakubek Jr. (36) is greeted by the Spartan football team during Champions Camp
Timothy Jakubek Jr. (36) is greeted by the Spartan football team during Champions Camp at the NBC Spartan Sports Complex in Superior on Monday evening, Sept. 19, 2022.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
What to read next
Senior quarterback scores four touchdowns on the ground and one more through the air as Superior wins against their former defensive coordinator.
Northwestern dominated a matchup of teams at the top of the Heart O'North Conference.
On the boys side, Duluth Denfeld was a 4-0 winner.
Ava Carlson had 15 kills and four blocks for the Lumberjacks