For the first time in two years, the UNC Special Olympics Club played its rival, the N.C. State Special Olympics Club, in a flag football game at the Bill Koman Practice Complex on Sunday morning.
The teams were made up of seven athletes — people in the community with disabilities — and six unified partners, said UNC sophomore Shruti Madhav and vice president of the University's Special Olympics Club.
“Their ages range from 18 to 40,” she said. “Club members that are at school at UNC, we are considered allied partners, unified partners, etc.”
The team from Chapel Hill was led by Jared Pascarelli and Trevor Shephard, the two quarterbacks, according to UNC junior Arunav Baruah, the club's chairperson for outreach.
Max Gitterman, another athlete who played on the team, said before the game that he looked forward to “taking the QB’s flag.”
Brandon Barbaro, Nickalas Harris, Man Jackson and Shawn Waitt also played on the team alongside the unified members from the University.
“We're going to have UNC football players come out and support. We have some cheerleaders coming out to do a halftime show,” Elizabeth Flowe, president of the club said. “It's going to be a big event, and we're really really excited and I know everybody on the team is really excited.”
Besides keeping a healthy rivalry between UNC and N.C. State alive, the game’s main goal is to promote inclusion.
“The whole point of this game is to show the community what inclusion looks like, and how important it is and how easy it is to support inclusion, whether that be on the practice field or in school, or even in the community," Madhav said.
The biggest thing that unified partners can take away from the game is gratitude and opportunity to support athletes with disabilities, Baruah said. For the athletes, it was an opportunity to participate and have a lot of fun.
The club at the University partners with Special Olympics Orange County to host events for people with disabilities in the area.
“We provide a bridge between unified partners and athletes in the community to promote inclusion within the community through sports,” she said.
The club is affiliated with the nationwide and North Carolina Special Olympics organizations but works more closely with Orange County's, Flowe said.
Madhav said the main goal is to provide opportunities for inclusion and for students and members of the disabled community in Orange County to build relationships. She said the club also provides opportunities for unified partners and athletes to meet throughout the year.
Athletes and unified partners meet on the first Friday of every month and participate in activities, such as bowling and yoga. The group also partners with B3 Coffee — a nonprofit pop-up coffee shop run by individuals with disabilities.
“It's just a great opportunity for everyone to come together and have some great fun,” said Baruah.
To continue the sports rivalries, Flowe said the club also hosts a basketball game against Duke each year in the spring. This year, the team from Durham will be hosting.
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