Special Olympics Unified high school flag football debut a success

posted Mon, Oct 26, 2015 by Jon Buzby

Saturday Night Lights featured the debut of Special Olympics Unified Sports high school flag football as Concord, Caesar Rodney, Middletown and William Penn competed in DIAA sanctioned games.

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MIDDLETOWN, Del. — Cavalier Stadium provided the perfect setting for the first ever Special Olympics Unified Sports high school flag football games sanctioned by the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) and Special Olympics Delaware (SODE).

A doubleheader featuring four high schools with historically good football programs took place under the lights on Saturday, Oct. 24 at the Middletown High School football complex.

“Saturday Night Lights exceeded my expectation on every level,” DIAA executive director Kevin Charles said. “The weather was perfect, the crowds were great, we had the stadium lights, the inflated helmet, a PA announcer calling the games, media interviewing the players after the games, and the games were streamed live on the Internet.

“But what impressed me most was the athletic competition,” he added. “These games were legitimate interscholastic competition featuring outstanding athletic effort, two teams fighting hard to win, good sportsmanship and great entertainment.” 

Caesar Rodney defeated Concord 18-12 in the first game and William Penn held on for a 40-33 win over Middletown in the nightcap. Both games were very competitive, featuring lead changes and scoring by Special Olympics athletes and Unified partners (peers without disabilities). 

Speedy Alexis Hubbard kept Concord in the game early but it was Caesar Rodney’s Davon Griffin who was the difference in the Riders’ win. William Penn’s Sam Hensley scored all six of his team’s touchdowns, both in the air and on the ground, to counter the points put on the board by Middletown’s Davonte Bessix and Dalton Johnson.

“It was a special night and definitely the start of something special,” said Middletown football head coach Mark DelPercio, who was instrumental in organizing the event.

Three of the teams were coached by faculty members of their respective schools, while William Penn was led by senior Dominique Spencer.

“It was great to see everyone come out and have all of the wonderful fans in the stands,” said Spencer, who was assisted by Colonial lineman Brandon Dooley.

All four Unified teams were included in their school’s football program traditions and routines leading up to the games, including pep rallies, team meals and serving as honorary captains at the varsity games. Football players, along with other student-athletes and school club leaders, played as Unified partners.

“The night will go down as one of my most memorable,” William Penn athletic director Sebrina Perialas said after the game. “It was such a great overall feeling. Our kids are really showing us how this is all done, with compassion and caring. What a great night it was.”

After this year’s successful pilot, plans are under way for the expansion of the flag football program to include all public high schools. The Special Olympics Unified flag football program will be structured similar to the existing football programs in the DIAA.

“Our hope is that our Unified Sports flag football teams will eventually be treated at each school just like the existing freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams,” SODE senior director of sports Gary Cimaglia said. “We want our teams to practice often and compete weekly, because it’s only fair that they have the same opportunities to improve their game as the other student-athletes in their school do.”

The four teams will be showcased at Delaware Stadium as part of the Division I and II Championships on Dec. 5.

“Everyone there on Saturday, from the athletes, the partners, the coaches, the officials, to the school communities rooting for their schools all seemed to be having a great time,” Charles said. “And isn’t that what interscholastic athletics should be all about. 

“I predict a bright future for Special Olympics Unified flag football," he added, smiling.