This week in Starkville, two groups made their way to Mississippi State’s campus. On the north side, football players got to town for summer classes and workouts. On the south side, participants in Camp Jabber Jaw arrived at the T.K. Martin Center for their annual summer camp helping children who require augmentative and alternative devices for speech and communication.
On Tuesday, the two groups met when MSU quarterback Dak Prescott drove his car over from the weight room following a workout to the activities room at Camp Jabberjaw where the campers were assembled and waiting on a surprise special guest.
The camp, whose theme is superheroes this year, is geared toward helping children who need and use typing devices, eye-detecting computers or other services to aid in their verbal communication. For most, they are the only ones in their school who have to use them, often making them feel left out or more reluctant to communicate. At Camp Jabberjaw every summer, they are in an environment where everyone around them, kids their own age, is just like them.
They are immersed in an environment where they can be comfortable, and are also provided with instruction from full-time staff at the T.K. Martin center as well as graduate students in speech pathology programs across the state of Mississippi. The camp is a unique one, attracting campers both new and returning from all over the United States every summer, and with parents and siblings invited it’s also an opportunity to learn together that they don’t often have.
And, of course, the idea is to have fun, hence the superhero theme including a cardboard Batmobile outside the entrance and murals of everyone from Clark Kent to The Hulk.
Prescott waited just outside the door to the room where all the kids waited as he was being introduced.
“We’ve been talking about superheroes all week,” one of the camp directors told the room, “so we wanted you to meet one of our heroes here at Mississippi State – Dak Prescott!”
She motioned for Prescott to walk inside, and as soon as he did the room erupted in cheers and clapping, as well as several excited looks from one camper to another.
Many of them knew who Prescott was, being Mississippi natives. But even the ones who didn’t looked at him with awe. The contrast between he and the campers was not lost on Prescott, whose 6’2”, 235-pound frame, shaved head, bulging muscles and big smile made him look every bit of an other-worldly action hero to the pint-sized kids, many of whom were bound to wheelchairs.
Prescott immediately walked up to the closest camper and introduced himself, shaking a little girl’s hand as he waited on her to type her name into the program on her iPad that would then read it back to him. Slowly, Prescott worked his way around the room, stopping to talk to every camper, making sure no one was missed, taking pictures, signing autographs and chatting with each of them as long as they liked, coaxing smiles and words out of even the shyest campers.
Not that all were shy, however.
An outgoing camper named Rachel flagged Prescott down as he neared the end of the line and played a message she had composed for him.
“Roll Tide!” the device chirped at MSU’s quarterback.
“What?!” Prescott responded with a smile and feigned disappointment.
Rachel, it turns out, is from Birmingham, and she’s a big Alabama fan.
But after laughs and a little more back and forth, Rachel leaned over the side of her wheelchair and gave Prescott a big hug as they said goodbye to each other.
MSU fan or not, Rachel was excited to meet Prescott. They all were, as evidenced by the Dak-Prescott-signed teddy bear and phone case now floating around somewhere at Camp Jabberjaw, but perhaps none were more thrilled to see Prescott than an older camper named Bac.
Wearing a maroon and white Mississippi State baseball hat, Bac had patiently waited in his spot in the circle of campers, watching intently as Prescott moved from person to person. As soon as Prescott stood up from taking a picture with the camper before and turned his way, Bac leapt out of his chair and held his hand out for Dak to shake it, an enormous smile covering his face.
Bac had actually graduated from MSU recently, one of the staffers explained, and he loves his Bulldogs. He and Prescott talked, joked, took pictures and smiled permanently as they spent several minutes with each other.
Once Prescott moved on down the circle, Bac just watched him with a smile as he introduced himself to each camper.
Something that had taken just a few minutes for Prescott had already become a memory that would last the rest of Bac’s life.
“Everybody does so much for me and there’s so much I can do with just a little bit of effort,” Prescott said afterward. “It makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing. It definitely humbles me to see them in their position.”
On the way out at the end of the morning, Prescott turned a corner coming down the stairs and saw a camper standing on the bottom floor along the wall in front of a life-size picture of The Hulk.
“Bac!” Prescott yelled down to him. “Are you a Hulk fan?”
The last thing Prescott did before walking out the door was to take a picture in front of The Hulk, he and Bac both flexing and cheesing for the camera.