President pays a quick visit to `neighbors' in the Catoctins

At camp for disabled, Bush takes part in games and chats with campers

July 13, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

THURMONT - Brandon Salahei was entertaining his counselors and bunkmates on the first night of camp, joking around about his next stop after Camp Greentop.

"I'm going to Camp David. That's where the president goes to camp," the 11-year-old from Columbia told them, echoing what his parents had said about the presidential retreat that would be his next-door neighbor for the eight days he swam and rode horses and painted in the Catoctin Mountains.

The next-best thing happened yesterday when President Bush stopped by to visit the campers and counselors at one of the nation's oldest overnight camps for people with disabilities.

FOR THE RECORD - Franklin D. Roosevelt was 39 years old when he was stricken with polio in 1921. The age at which he contracted the disease was given incorrectly in an article in yesterday's editions.
The Sun regrets the error.

About 60 campers - ages 7 to 23 - stopped swimming, singing and making birdhouses long enough to stomp and cheer and shout, "Hello, Mr. President" as Bush's motorcade of black sports utility vehicles whizzed onto the campgrounds in a cloud of dust.

The president, clad in blue jeans and a polo shirt, headed straight for the horse paddock, where he got a quick grooming lesson from counselor-in-training Christina Nochera, 16, of Pasadena.

He joined a game of hokey pokey and interrupted a water polo match, where 18-year-old twin brothers Adam and Tom Zayed of Pennsylvania were egging on their campers to toss the yellow ball to - and splash - the president.

And Bush stepped to the plate of the camp Wiffle-ball game, where gym mats served as bases, campers on foot and in wheelchairs rounded the bases and no one seemed to care that no one was keeping score.

Choosing an oversized purple plastic bat, Bush hit a grounder on the first pitch - only to be called out when the throw reached the first baseman, 21-year-old Russian economics student Vova Solovyev, a Greentop counselor, well before Bush.

Founded in 1936 by what is now the Baltimore-based League for People with Disabilities, Greentop combines traditional camp experiences with handicap-accessible programs to promote independence and personal growth among children and adults with physical and mental disabilities.

With its proximity to the presidential retreat - Camp Greentop is literally a few hundred yards down the road that twists through the heavily wooded mountains - the camp has earned a place in the footnotes of presidential history.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had polio as a child, arranged for the camp's outdoor pool, and President Ronald Reagan helped the camp get a horse barn, which he used during visits to Camp David.

Past presidents and foreign leaders have held news conferences at the camp's recreation hall, and the Secret Service nearly shut down the camp during President Bill Clinton's Middle East peace summit because of security concerns.

And when Vice President Dick Cheney first took questions about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he described - by satellite - the White House's first harrowing moments from a chair beside an American flag and the massive stone fireplace in Camp Greentop's dining hall.

Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Dwight D. Eisenhower are the only presidents before Bush to accept the camp's annual invitation for a tour.

Bush seemed to enjoy his 45-minute visit, just as Brandon, who has attention deficit disorder, a developmental disability and a contagious giggle, had predicted. "He'd have fun at our camp because he could go horseback riding," he said, "and because we have the new Lucky Charms [cereal] with the moons that turn to stars."

As Bush prepared to leave, he thanked the campers and staff for the visit. "We're neighbors," he told them.

"Yes," replied cabin leader Alisa Jordan, 20, of Cockeysville, "so come by more often."

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