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Summer camp teaches athletic skills to disabled
Olivia Carpenter, 5, throws a bowling ball before volunteers Maggie Conde, left, and Kelly Adams, can set up the rest of the pins Thursday during the Elsie Conde Memorial Sports Camp at the Mulberry Creek Community Center in Flowery Branch. Volunteer Maggie Conde was the aunt of the late Elsie Conde, who died two months after her birth because of a heart complication. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

When Jade Butterworth was growing up, she had to look to Atlanta to find a camp that would cater to a child with special needs.

Now, Butterworth — a 22-year-old Flowery Branch resident who has been in a wheel chair her entire life — has found a way to help local children in similar situations. She’s found Elsie Conde Memorial Sports Camp.

“I feel like I can relate to the kids a lot better because they have special needs, and I do too,” Butterworth said. “They know that they’re loved, and that there’s people like them and that they’re not any different.”

Beginning Monday, children ages 6 to 10 came together with volunteers and parents for a weeklong camp operated through Cross Training Sports Camps, a nonprofit organization that conducts camps for children who wouldn’t normally get to participate in a summer camp. They operate throughout the United States and also in Africa, Bolivia and Honduras.

The Elsie Conde camp began two years ago in memory of Elsie Conde, who died of hypoplastic left heart syndrome just two months after her birth.

“When she passed away, during that time, she touched so many lives,” said Claire Maddox, executive director of Cross Training Sports Camps and Elsie’s grandmother. “We wanted to do something to make her memory live on.”

At camp, the children sing, dance, cheerlead, play basketball and bowl — and they love every minute of it.

Robin Bryant said her son, Joe, who is attending the camp for a second year, loves the camp.

“When we get in the truck and start coming, he just gets excited and is laughing,” she said. “When he’s here, he’s happy.”

Campers began the week at Field of Dreams at Alberta Banks Park in Flowery Branch but moved to the Mulberry Creek Community Center because of the heat.

Friday, campers, volunteers, friends and family returned to the Field of Dreams for a celebration dinner.

Darrel Chaney, who played baseball for both the Cincinnati Reds and the Atlanta Braves, spoke at the event, and the campers showed off their new sports skills with a softball game.

Thursday, Callie Truelove, a 6-year-old camper, was already looking forward to the event.

“We’re going to hit the ball,” she said. “We’re going to hit the ball for our parents. It is so great!”

And for the Elsie Conde campers, winning doesn’t matter. Team lines are blurry; games are just for fun.

“They’re just so happy that their friend hit the ball or got to base,” Bryant said. “It doesn’t matter to them that they’re on opposite teams. They just want each other to do good. They’re the epitome of sportsmanship.”

A second special-needs camp will take place the week of July 26 for children ages 11 to 16.

Spots are still available, and parents can request information at Cross Training Sports Camps.