Cameron Hamilton is accustomed to performing.

The baritone graduate of College Park High School had a solo in the school musical, "Anything Goes."

So when his girlfriend Sally Ann came home energized after a Monday night practice with the Concord Blue Devils' Special Needs Color Guard last November, Hamilton, 19, couldn't say no.

"He fell in love with it," says his mother, Cyndee. "He took right to it."

Hamilton will be performing with the 19-member group at the California Circuit Championships on Saturday, March 29, in San Jose.

The Concord resident is responsible for throwing his red and orange flag in the air toward the end of the show's B-52s "Love Shack" finale, that in past state championship performances has brought the house down, with a standing ovation and joyous tears.

"Working with the flags, it helps my hand-eye coordination. It gives me confidence," say Hamilton, who has autism and bipolar disorder. "Nobody's perfect."

Hamilton and his fellow performers are coached by Annette Odello, a daughter of the Blue Devils' founders, who has been twirling her baton for world champion color guard and drum and bugle corps since childhood, and hasn't stopped.

Odello, a Martinez resident, had the idea for the special needs guard and solicited the support of her cousin, Liz Lamach, a trumpet-playing color guard alumna, who had been instrumental in establishing Matteo's Dream, a playground for children of all abilities in Concord, and named after her son, Matteo Henderson.


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The color guard first assembled in 2011, the same year 11-year-old Matteo passed away.

"It was nice to do this in his honor," Lamach says of her son's legacy. "I wanted something Matteo and I could do together, and for him to be among his peers."

Lamach applauds her cousin's instructional approach that is minus any condescension, and regardless of whether one is disabled or able-bodied, the choreography challenges youth to use their muscles differently, to learn to work together as a team, and to communicate, she notes.

"It's their spontaneous reaction, that's why I do this," Lamach adds. "This (upcoming performance) is one of the highlights of my year."

For Odello, who has coached beginning spinners to superstars, the sight of her special needs color guard lighting up and having the audience in the palm of their ever-moving hands, where one past performer likened it to feeling "like a rock star," is a real motivator for all the requisite hard work and one-on-one attention.

"I know these kids at one point in their life were made to feel bad about who they are ... To have a packed gym with mostly high school-age kids, who are so supportive; it's so anti-bully," she says. "And then the parents are bawling their eyes out. It's just a moment ... I've traveled around the world (for Blue Devils appearances). This one always touches me."

Meanwhile, Hamilton seems undaunted by some slightly modified choreography and the notion of performing in front of an estimated crowd of 5,000 on Saturday.

"If you drop the flag, you just pick it up and start doing your drop spins," he says matter-of-factly. "(Annette says) the crowd will appreciate your recovery."

IF YOU GO
WHAT: 2014 California Color Guard Circuit Championship
WHEN: Saturday, March 29; doors open 7:30 a.m.; percussion performances begin 8 a.m.; guard units at 1:15 p.m. Blue Devils Special Needs Color Guard closes show at 9 p.m.
WHERE: Independence High School, 1776 Educational Park Drive, San Jose
TICKETS: $15, under 5 free; www.theccgc.org/
For more information about the Blue Devils Special Needs Color Guard, visit www.bluedevils.org.