RUTLEDGE — Afternoon showers couldn’t wash away the good will and rays of joy Kirby Smart and his Georgia Bulldogs provided at Camp Sunshine on Tuesday afternoon.
Hundreds of young cancer patients — some newly diagnosed, others in the midst of treatments, the fortunate in remission — had stars in their eyes on the Camp Twin Lakes Campus.
“You know how Coach Smart tells you to do your best, and never give up, well it’s the same concept for these children, they drive to be their best every day,” Mo Thrash, a Camp Sunshine founder and organizer, told the 54 or so UGA football players on hand. “You’re heroes to these children.”
But for a few hours inside the Camp Sunshine gym, the UGA players were playmates, shooting baskets, playing dodge ball and sharing smiles and conversation.
“As soon as you put on the jersey, it’s a different world, it’s a different power, and I’m thankful to be on this stage and get to spend some time with some awesome people and hopefully make their day,” Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm said.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to affect these kids and hopefully put a smile on their face,” Fromm said. “You feel like you’re young again here, and come out and have some fun, shoot some basketball and play some dodge ball.”
And, Fromm said, gain some perspective.
“You put it in your memory banks,” Fromm said, “stuff like this will keep you going on your tough days.”
Senior tight end Charlie Woerner said the lessons learned by attending the camp are spiritual.
“It was in my devotional this morning, just to be thankful and give back to the kids who don’t have everything, who have had bad things happen to them,” said Woerner, still perspiring from a spirited game of dodge ball.
“I remember coming here my freshman year, I was a deer in the headlights,” Woerner said. “It was like, this really happens, it was pretty surreal, and I’m a lot more appreciative now and want to give back.”
Two busloads of players unloaded, including preseason All-SEC candidates D’Andre Swift and Eric Stokes.
Future stars were also on hand, freshmen Nakobe Dean, George Pickens, Dominique Blaylock and Tyrique Stevenson among the freshmen in attendance — along with transfers Lawrence Cager, Eli Wolf and Jermaine Johnson.
Smart, whose older brother Karl overcame leukemia after attending Camp Sunshine as a 15 year old, took note of the players who made the trip.
“I want to give these guys a round of applause that gave their time today,” Smart said addressing the children, camp workers and volunteer and his players. “It’s a down time for them, from training and school, and for them to give back to this, I really appreciate it.
“This place means a lot to my family and my brother and so many people that are here now and that work the camp.”
Smart’s wife, Mary Beth, was also on hand along with the couple’s children, Andrew, Julia and Weston.
“Georgia football has been involved going back to Coach (Vince) Dooley, when it first started 37 years ago, Barbara and Vince were on our board,” Thrash said. “Kirby has been coming since he was at Valdosta State, yes siree.”
Smart revealed $295,000 had been raised for the camp on Tuesday, and he said Georgia football will continue the tradition of bringing players out to meet with and interact with the campers on an annual basis.
— Mike Griffith (@MikeGriffith32) June 18, 2019
Jake Fromm, Bulldawg Illustrated
Kirby Smart at Camp Sunshine
Charlie Woerner, Camp Sunshine