OTISFIELD — Cool sunglasses masking his eyes, microphone in hand, Wil Smith worked his audience, priming them with introductions of the visitors. By the time Smith reached Mia Hamm, his campers at Seeds of Peace were beyond delight.

Teenage boys and girls, mostly from the Middle East, were heading to a new level of excitement. Waiting for his wife after his own noisy welcome, Nomar Garciaparra didn’t try to hide his smile.

So this is why his agent kept inviting him to this former boys camp on the pine-lined shore of Pleasant Lake. Actually, Arn Tellem’s reason was only beginning to reveal itself.

“You know the lives they’ll go back to, but you look in their faces and see the joy,” Garciaparra said Thursday morning. “They’re giving me much more than I can give them.”

This is Seeds of Peace, the oasis away from the world’s centuries-old battle for hearts and minds and land in the Middle East. Children from other places where fear and danger are constant companions also arrive here each summer.

It’s a universal mission: Dialogue can affect peace better than terror. Plant that seed.

“I go to sleep, thinking of my problems,” said Brian Scalabrine, a free agent after four seasons with the New Jersey Nets and the past five with the Boston Celtics. “What’s my future hold? Where will I play? Will my kids be safe? And then I think of the kids I’ve met here. What are their futures?”

Scalabrine was a rookie in 2001 when he first came to Seeds of Peace with Tellem and another rookie class of the agent’s clients. Unlike most of the others, Scalabrine has returned every year since. “In my lifetime, I want to see peace in the Middle East,” he said.

On Thursday, Nets rookie Brian Zoubek unfolded his 7-foot-1 frame from the SUV that also brought Xavier Henry (Memphis Grizzlies) and Scottie Reynolds (Phoenix Suns) to this place. Teresa Edwards, the forever young, 46-year-old Hall of Fame player from Georgia, also came. She was a five-time Olympian, winning basketball gold four times — the youngest at 20 in 1984, and the oldest at 36 in 2000.

“I’ve been blessed with a career that’s allowed me to travel the world,” Edwards said. “I know what’s out there.”

She didn’t know what to expect Thursday. Breaking for lunch, she was still trying to get her arms around the hellos and the smiles and a growing feeling of wonder. That she was able to get her arms around individual campers went without saying.

The task wasn’t to solve problems, but to let young men and women know they mattered. A smile works. Simple questions and simple answers, the tools of conversation, work too.

This wasn’t a USO troupe dropping in to entertain the troops. Believe it or not, March Madness and Major League Baseball don’t reach deep into the Middle East. The campers understood and appreciated that these men and women were stars. Wil Smith, the camp director, told them that.

The campers reached out to their guests on a far easier and more relaxed level. Nomar and Mia, Scalabrine and Edwards and the others responded the same way.

Maybe an American Seed, as they’re called, or an American counselor asked Garciaparra what he thought of the Red Sox chances this year. Maybe not. Those Seeds from Gaza or Jerusalem didn’t care. They were more interested that the man helping Hamm was her husband.

Some Red Sox fans saw Garciaparra in one dimension: He could play shortstop better than most and he could certainly hit. If they bothered to peer into his soul, they would have found an intelligent, compassionate and friendly man.

“I kept telling Arn I wanted to do this, but after I retire. Well, I’m retired.”

Tellem was a camper here more than 40 years ago when Seeds of Peace was Camp Powhatan and Tim Wilson was his counselor. Wilson was the first Seeds of Peace camp director. He’s retired but that doesn’t keep him away.

“We look for people who can make a difference, even if it’s just for one day,” Tellem said.

Someone came over to tell Garciaparra he had been picked for a soccer team for the next 15 minutes. The Yankees. He grimaced. And laughed.

“This is all hard to put into words,” Hamm said during a break. “It’s beyond my expectations. Everyone is so committed. Watching (the Seeds) talk to each other, play together . . . it’s emotional.”

Nearby, Zoubek, the former Duke basketball star, left the court to sneak into the soccer net to play goalie. Someone lined up to take a shot. The laughter was loud.

 

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be

contacted at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]