For Kirby Smart, Camp Sunshine will always have special meaning

Anthony Dasher, Editor
GA Varsity
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Anthony Dasher

RUTLEDGE – One by one, members of Georgia’s football team stepped onto the grounds at Camp Sunshine, the nearby escape for youngsters recovering from cancer.

They kept coming ... and coming.

Unlike previous years, standard UGA Athletic Association vans were not used.

“When 60 signed up, we took busses,” quipped Bulldog head coach Kirby Smart, who brought his entire family to Wednesday’s event at Camp Twin Lakes.

The Smart clan wasn't alone.

Among the players taking part included quarterbacks Jacob Eason and Jake Fromm, running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn and defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter.

“Everything they have here gives the kids an opportunity to take their mind off of what they are going through,” Michel said. “They’re just out here having fun.”

Count Michel among those having a good time, as you can see in the video below, which incidently was shot by the Bulldog running back who even posed a question to teammate, defensive back Aaron Davis.

For those who haven’t seen or heard about Camp Sunshine, there’s many reasons why so many consider this such a special place.

Not only is there a hospital on campus to serve the needs of the youngsters who attend, but opportunities for recreation abound, from arts and crafts, fishing, horseback riding, a gym for dodgeball and basketball. There’s even a radio station, fully operational, where young campers can serve as DJs. Wednesday, Eason and Mecole Hardman were interviewed.

For Smart, Camp Sunshine the work done by the staff there holds an extra special meaning.

When his older brother Karl was a youngster, he attended Camp Sunshine while undergoing treatment at Eggleston Hospital in Atlanta and the Bulldog head coach has made it a point to return just as much as he can.

“The first time I came was when I came with Coach Richt’s staff,” Smart said. “We came out with Thomas Brown, Knowshon (Moreno), some really good players. I remember being on the back field back there, just playing football, having a good time with the kids.”

Wednesday’s visit held was extra special for the Bulldog head coach. It was the first time he brought his wife Mary Beth and their three children.

“This camp’s in Georgia, it’s special to Georgia kids. I met a young man from Thomasville, I met a young man from Albany. You meet people from all over the state and they all convene here,” Smart said. “A lot of them have things in common and when you have somebody that you’ve got something in common with, there’s nothing that we can do as coaches and players to replace that relationship. We’re just here to spend a day with them. The real heroes are the ones who spend time every day with these kids to make this camp what it is.”

During an interval inside the gym, Smart took a moment to reveal to those in attendance just how much Camp Sunshine means, reading a letter from his mother Sharon Smart read to the camp board of directors.

You can see Smart read the letter in the video below:

“It makes me realize what my brother went through. You don’t ever forget that. He’s a champion in my heart because he’s given back to so many people who have been through what he’s been through,” Smart said of Karl, now 42 and living in California. “I think back to the time he was going through it as a sibling, I thought selfishly it was all about him, but now I you realize it was really not that way. It’s about the kids, it’s about a chance to give back, to give them a chance to do things they don’t normally do.

“That’s why that letter was so important. In 1990, I didn’t know what that letter meant. I know a lot more about it now that I’ve got my own kids.”

For Wynn, seeing his head coach read the letter tugged at his heart.

“It means a lot. I always knew Coach Smart was involved, but I didn’t know he was that involved to the point of his brother was diagnosed with cancer,” Wynn said. “I never knew that and hearing him read the letter from his mother, that was heartwarming.”

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