A cold Tuesday night hosted the flag football championship on Miller Field for Unified Sports program. If you were to watch closely from the sideline, you would have soon found yourself getting invested into the dynamic of the players. They made intense interceptions and dashed over 40 yards for touchdown attempts. It was easy to buy into the pride and passion of the players on the field. Standing next to the sideline, you could hear teammates conversing with each other. You may then realize that some of the people playing had intellectual disabilities.
Unified Sports is a program that combines college students (called athletes) with residents who have special intellectual needs (called partners.) The flag football team is a combination of both athletes and partners in a “pickup” game setting. Maggie DeWeese, the president of Unified Sports chapter at NC State, reflects when she first became hooked on working with the organization. She has been involved with the organization since her sophomore year of college. She coordinates with the greater wake county organization and plays on the flag football team. DeWeese recalls her journey with Unified Sports, “we beat the UNC rivalry team last year in overtime; I will never forget Zach’s face when he caught the game winning touchdown. He caught it at the last second and won and got interviewed. The cheerleaders were hanging out with him and the UNC football team gave him the metal and interacting with that has been so cool because these partners wouldn’t have this opportunity to compete at NC State.”
I was amazed at the athleticism of partners like Zach Butler and their natural ability to make quick decisions and lead a team consistently through plays. Butler has been a part of the Unified Sports Program for three years now. He became a hometown hero last year when he caught the winning pass at the last second to beat UNC in their annual rivalry game. Butler is grateful to be a part of Unified Sports and has learned a lot of soft skills as well as technical athletic attributes. Butler says he has grown the most in teamwork, “because all these people out here know what teamwork is all about. We enjoy competing against whoever and we are good with what we do.”
The NC State chapter has their annual rivalry game this year Nov. 19 at the Close-King Indoor Practice Field. DeWeese and others are preparing for the game by rallying up our cheerleaders and the band to support the team and simulate a real college game experience. As for the championship game Tuesday night, the red team won – which happens to be the team Zach played on.