Vikings have memorable visit to Camp Phoenix

Kurtis Pederson

Oct. 17, 2013


By Kameron Payne, WWU Sports Information Office

When Greg Brisbon was named head men's soccer coach at Western Washington University in mid-February, one of his goals was to teach his players something more than just game tactics.

"I'd always wanted our team to do a community service project and then this opportunity presented itself," said Brisbon, who previously had spent 12 of the last 13 years as WWU's top assistant.

The chance was a visit in August to Camp Phoenix, a summer camp held at the north end of Lake Samish.

Following a morning conditioning workout, the Vikings packed their gear and made the short drive south on a warm, sunny day to play 11-on-11 soccer games.

The camp, however, was much different than the norm. All 35 children were burn victims who had come from all over the country to attend.

I've done Top Soccer before, but this camp was with kids with physical disabilities," said WWU player Kurtis Pederson, a sophomore from Puyallup (graduate of Bellarmine Prep). "I didn't know how I'd be able to cope with it at first."

Camp Phoenix is part of the Burned Children Recovery Foundation, an organization that helps burn victims and their families deal with their tragedies.

The purpose of the camp is to help the children feel good about themselves and how they interact with others, including people who have not been burned.

Michael T. Mathis, who founded the BCRF in 1989, understands intimately what these children are dealing with. In 1967, at age 11, he was a victim of a fire that left him with burns over 60 percent of his body.

"It's unacceptable to allow these children to hide," Mathis said. "When you make the choice to hide, nobody wins."

Each year, approximately 280,000 children in the United States are victims of tragic burns. This number may seem shocking to some since many victims hide in isolation, fearful and unsure how to deal with their circumstances.

This was not the case with the campers at Camp Phoenix, who where extremely welcoming of the team's presence.

"They came up to us," Pederson said with a smile. "They kind of ended up leading things. It was kind of the opposite of what I thought it would be."

Each year the camp is held at several locations around northwest Washington, providing opportunities for children to deal with their struggles in order to live a successful life.

"I thought it was a great experience for everyone," said Brisbon. "The guys did an awesome job. It showed how fortunate we are and it was a good way to give back." The camp proved to be just as meaningful and memorable to the Vikings as it was for the campers.

Bailey Martin, a senior from Tacoma Washington, credits the experience for bringing the team closer this season. And WWU is enjoying an outstanding year, going unbeaten in six games during one stretch, its longest streak since 2007.

"I think it was a good team-building event," said Martin. "Being able to hang out with these kids and share our experiences together. It made us more of a unit." The experience is something that Brisbon wants to continue.

"I would definitely do it again in a heartbeat," Pederson said. " I'm sure they are doing it next year and I'm sure we'll be there.