- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 22, 2001

It was hard to tell who had the bigger smile Thursday at the athletic complex of the Washington D.C. International School.

There was 8-year-old Issac Heintz sprawled out and laughing on the green grass of the playing field, with a fire engine-red Nerf soccer ball continually beeping on the ground beside him. And there was 29-year-old Mia Hamm, one of the most recognizable soccer players in the world, standing with her hands on her slightly bent knees, grinning while trying to coax the young boy up.

Issac was one of about 30 boys and girls aged 6 to 15 who welcomed Hamm and Washington Freedom teammates Monica Gerardo and Louise Lieberman to the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind summer camp for visually impaired children.

Seconds before Hamm tried to get Issac to stand up, the boy backed four steps out of his group's passing circle, put himself in a sprinter's starting stance, then ran full tilt toward the ball. Squinting through his glasses as he aimed at the high-pitched sound coming from the ball, he took a Hamm-sized swing at it while his 15-year-old volunteer helper, August Humphries, held it steady with his foot.

But Issac missed the ball wide to the left, and his momentum sent him skidding to the slightly damp turf. The boy from Southeast smiled all the way down.

"It's Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty. Get up, Charlie Brown," Hamm said jokingly as Issac scrambled to his feet, then made a perfect pass to the Freedom's star forward and continued the passing around the circle of children, with Hamm at its center.

"It's great," Issac said with the kind of exuberance only a child can express in just two words. "[Hamm was] fun."

Hamm's upbeat demeanor on this day belied the personal upheaval she's going through. Like her time on the soccer field, doing charity work provides this product of Lake Braddock High School in Burke, with an escape. A day after Hamm's visit, the New York Times reported she and her husband, Marine helicopter pilot Christiaan Corry, will divorce after six years of marriage.

Hamm told the newspaper that their separation last October was precipitated by their dedication to their careers her to the Freedom of the fledgling Women's United Soccer Association, him to a military career in San Diego, Calif.

"Our career paths never really crossed," Hamm told the New York Times. "We were both committed to what we were doing. We found a great deal of security in each other. At the same time, we missed out on a lot. I know a lot of times I wasn't there for him, and that I regret."

However, it's obvious Hamm didn't regret her time spent on the pitch with the children. And for 42 years, the camp has given such children "a great chance to get out and do what every other kid does in the summer," said CLB president and CEO Dale Otto.

In the second week of camp, the children and their high school volunteers one for each camper participated in sports and fitness activities. This is the first year there has been a concentration on sports in the camp, and the unit culminated with a day of games.

Despite being blind since birth in 1953, Otto played basketball and baseball growing up with his two younger brothers. He believes sports can work wonders for children like Issac, who wears thick-lensed glasses to enhance the minimal vision he has.

"I think the athletic part of it and the exercise part of it are important," Otto said. "It's just a chance for kids to feel like everybody else and experience what every kid wants to do."

The kids spent the morning swimming at Georgetown University and had just come from morning practice at RFK Stadium's auxiliary field. But they weren't too tired to talk soccer and work on their skills.

First, the Freedom players introduced themselves and fielded questions, with some deadpan answers. Responding to one youngster's question of whether she knew Michael Jordan, Hamm replied, "He called me up and asked me who he should draft, and I said, 'Kwame Brown's all right, I guess.' "

Then out came the special soccer balls, and the kids broke into three groups for some skills training. Sounding like a fleet of trucks driving in reverse, the three colorful balls bright white, neon yellow and red had electronic beepers inside their cores so the children could know their locations despite not being able to see them.

According to second-year camp director Krista Davis, who is CLB's director of low vision, beepers and bells can be used in every sport so those with vision problems can participate.

"The fact that they can hear [the ball] and see it better in their minds, that's amazing," said Lieberman, a Freedom midfielder, who ran her group through passing and dribbling exercises.

Hamm's group, consisting of boys and girls ages 6 to 8, concentrated on passing. Hamm stressed the importance of using the instep of the foot for better control, and the children responded with crisp passes as the red ball beeped around the circle.

"For some of the kids, it may have been the first time that they've kicked a soccer ball before, and they were doing real good," Davis said.

After about 15 minutes of passing, Hamm brought the group of children into the center of the circle, where they chanted "Freedom" before giving their guest a huge group hug.

Asked if she was inspired by the children, Hamm said, "Gosh, in so many ways. Probably the strongest [inspiration] is they're all out here and, regardless of sight or lack of sight, they all see everything."

The campers received gift packs from the Freedom that included a team bumper sticker, temporary tattoos, a key chain from the WUSA inaugural game and a team picture that all three players autographed before joining the smiling children in front of a goal for a group picture.

"I think it was great that the players were as excited and as involved as the kids," Davis said. "This is really a big deal for [the children], something special. I think they'll cherish it for a long time."

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