First game of the day

Special athletes continue tradition

As the McNeese State University football team prepared to take on Nicholls State University on Saturday, Special Olympic athletes from Lake Charles and Thibodaux, gathered on McNeese’s intramural field to face off in the annual flag football match.

Alternating between the two universities, the “rivalry series” game is a partnership with each university’s intramural department, McNeese’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and the state’s Special Olympic organization and gives athletes of every ability the opportunity to compete with the same fanfare of a traditional collegiate sporting event. McNeese’s cheerleaders and Cowgirl Kickers cheered the players on to victory and the Pride of McNeese Band could be heard from the neighboring field creating an environment that buzzed with electricity and celebration.

“They play in this unified concept,” said Brock Banos, director of health and unified strategies for Louisiana Special Olympics. “They compete with each other so the importance is obviously the partnership, the teammates, inclusion and respect – ultimately, the unification of people with and without disabilities.”

Jill Dye, parent of Red Team player Kendell Dye, said the opportunity to play football is a “dream come true” for her son who was not able to play contact football in school due to the long-term effects of childhood brain cancer and subsequent treatment. “This is a great opportunity for him. He does a lot of sports in Special Olympics and I wish we would’ve known about it sooner.”

Care takers or “sideline coaches” agreed that the opportunity to play recreational sports with other young adults who do not have an intellectual disability is important to Special Olympian’s self-esteem and overall health. Jennifer Callais, Nicholls/Red team coordinator said, “It teaches inclusion. You know, it shows these athletes that they’re no different. Just because they’re labeled with an intellectual disability, they’re no different than anybody else. They can do the same things.”

McNeese’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity has partnered with Special Olympics for three years and member Bradley Bryant said forming lasting relationships keeps him involved in the outreach. “I still have guys who remember me and will come up to me. So, that really means a lot to me and these guys really take that to heart. We’re all on the same team. These guys are super competitive. They’re more athletic than you would think and they love to come out here and compete.”

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