Sport Programs Coordinator Tori Hooker and Assistant Director of Sport Programs Justin Ford worked with UNC’s Special Olympics College chapter to bring about Unified Flag Football.
“The national governing body for the Special Olympics is taking an interest with working with college students in recreational programs across the country, and I think it is more of, just, building those relationships and sharing facilities,” Ford said.
Ford said the goal is to get nearly 100 students and Special Olympic athletes to participate, make four teams and compete with modified rules for a more inclusive experience.
“(UNC students) are doing something different and realizing the benefits of being a part of the community and doing something outside of the normal studying or just playing a sport, knowing that you are making a potential long-lasting impact on someone,” Ford said.
The makeup of each team will be similar. Half the players will be Special Olympic athletes and the other half UNC students.
The Unified Flag Football league will give students the chance to compete and play with a more diverse group of people.
“We want to make sure we are creating a well-working environment for all people,” Hooker said. “So we will be reaching out to people with diverse skill sets, both physically and mentally.”
UNC Intramurals had a similar league last semester for kickball.
“We kind of labeled that as our pilot league,” Hooker said. “We wanted to kind of gauge interest and ensure that the interest was there from both the Special Olympic athletes’ side as well as the UNC community side.”
Ford said the kickball league in the spring had a great turn out and brought a wide variety of Special Olympic athletes, especially since there was no age restriction which will remain the same this season.
Alyssa Taflinger, president of the UNC Special Olympics College chapter, said she participated in the kickball league and felt the team spirit.
“It was so awesome because everyone was encouraging (the Special Olympic athletes) and motivating them,” Taflinger said. “Even the athletes that were playing against each other and the athletes with disabilities were encouraging each other, and that was my favorite part.”
Taflinger said she is expecting the Unified Flag Football league to bring about the same kind of experience.
Unified Flag Football will begin September 29 and will meet every Thursday at Hooker Fields from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The goal is for students to have an experience on the field they wouldn’t have with other intramural sports.