As dreams go, Bob Eastland's vision of a year-round sports camp for wheelchair athletes is about as ambitious as they come.
Picture 85-plus acres of Orange County real estate. Then imagine a swimming pool, tennis courts, a bowling alley, rifle and archery ranges, horseback-riding trails and a lake for fishing.
The dream even has a name--Camp Whe Cha Pines.
"Whe Cha stands for wheelchair," Eastland explains. And Pines? "We plan to have a lot of pine trees," he says with a grin.
Eastland, 49, is program director of the Boys Club of Buena Park, which offers wheelchair hockey, basketball and several other sports for disabled youngsters every Monday night. The club in Buena Park, however, is one of the few places in Orange County providing regular, ongoing sports activities for wheelchair athletes.
And that's the problem as Eastland sees it.
"They really don't have a place to go," Eastland said. "We want to take these kids and put them into something just like able-bodied kids. We want to get them off the sidelines and out on the field."
So far, Eastland's dream of a year-round sports camp for wheelchair athletes of all ages is only a set of blueprints and a scale model stored at his home in Anaheim.
The stumbling block--and a decidedly major hurdle to overcome--has been finding someone to donate land for the camp. There have been discussions with several landowners in the county over the years, Eastland said, but nothing has materialized.
But Eastland, who has been working on his camp project in his spare time for 16 years, remains optimistic.
"Right now it's an $11-million project, excluding the land," he said. "Once we get the land and publicize that we need help, I'm sure people will come and help. I don't know how they could turn away."
The idea for the camp dates back to 1970, when Eastland took a group of disabled kids to a regular children's camp. Because the camp wasn't designed for the handicapped, he said, the children faced numerous obstacles--from getting in and out of the cabins and swimming pool to getting their wheelchairs under the dining room tables.
"After seeing what they had to go through at the camp," Eastland recalled, "I said these kids need a place of their own."
Eastland, however, envisions Camp Whe Cha Pines as being more than just a sports camp and training facility for wheelchair athletes.
"It's going to be a respite care center for parents to drop off their children for an hour or so, or on the weekend, so they can get away by themselves," he said. "The kids will have something to do and be safe, and it won't cost them a fortune."
Although there are several residential summer camps for the handicapped in Southern California, Eastland said they require reservations, are usually crowded and cost about four times as much as camps for able-bodied children.
(The two major wheelchair-accessible summer camps are operated by the Crippled Children's Society of Southern California in Malibu and Crestline. The cost is $420 for each of the 10-day sessions for physically and developmentally disabled children and adults. Applications are taken in January and February, and there usually is a waiting list, according to Mark Gray, director of the Malibu camp.)
Plans No Daily Charge
Eastland said there would be no charge to use the Camp Whe Cha Pines facilities on a daily basis, although a nominal fee would be charged for overnight stays. He said it hasn't been determined how much that would be.
"We'd like to have it on a donation or sliding-scale basis, but it will be reasonable," he said, adding that the camp, which would be supported primarily by private donations, also could provide jobs for the handicapped, ranging from group leaders to kitchen help.
Camp Whe Cha Pines, which Eastland said has been incorporated for tax-exempt status, holds an annual fund-raiser at Cerritos College called the Handicapped Youth Tournament. The camp also received a share of proceeds from the recent community-sponsored benefit Run for the Roses 5- and 10-K race at Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley. (Proceeds also went to high school athletic programs in Fountain Valley.) So far, Eastland said, about $40,000 has been raised for the camp, most of which has been used to pay for the architectural plans and the scale model.
Because Eastland's camp project has received virtually no publicity, most officials of organizations that help the disabled in Orange County say they have not heard of Camp Whe Cha Pines. But the idea of a year-round sports camp for wheelchair athletes in Orange County was uniformly met with enthusiasm by those contacted by The Times.
"I think it's an outstanding idea," said Brad Parks, president of the Tustin-based National Foundation of Wheelchair Tennis. "There aren't enough programs for wheelchair-bound youngsters."