2023 NIRSA Flag Football National Championship hosted at OSU, featuring Unified team
Thursday, December 21, 2023
Media Contact: Kirsi McDowell | Senior Communications Specialist | 405-744-9347 | firstname.lastname@example.org
OSU Unified was among the teams competing in the Unified division during the three-day tournament. OSU Unified is a program of the OSU Center for Developmental Disabilities in collaboration with OSU Intramurals and Special Olympics Oklahoma. The OSU Unified All-Star flag football team included six Special Olympics athletes and four partners (three OSU undergraduate students and one international graduate student).
Competitors in the Unified division traveled from universities across the country to attend the championship event, including University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Florida Club Unified, University of Utah, University of Toledo, Hoya Unified and Purdue University Unified.
Erica Still, program coordinator for the OSU Center for Developmental Disabilities and OSU Unified’s club advisor, spoke of the team’s efforts leading up to the tournament.
“They practiced weekly to prepare for our first trip to the NIRSA Flag Football Championship. Excitement was very high for this experience!" Still said. "This tournament provided our athletes and partners an opportunity to compete against teams from across the country, meet new people and create memories with their teammates.”
In addition to scrimmages and pool play, Unified athletes participated in a team hangout and T-shirt exchange, where they enjoyed the camaraderie of the tournament.
OSU Unified athlete Wyatt Short shared what fun it was to play alongside friends with family members in attendance.
“It was really cool to have schools from all over the country come to OSU to compete in flag football," Short said.
Dr. Jennifer Jones, director of the OSU Center for Developmental Disabilities, shared about the team’s experience.
“This was truly an opportunity of a lifetime for our athletes and partners to compete in a national tournament,” Jones said.
“All four of our student partners have said that being a part of Unified and other programs at the OSU Center for Developmental Disabilities have been the highlight of their time at OSU.”
Unified Partner and Human Development and Family Science student Carter Salinas echoed the sentiment.
“My favorite part about playing on this team is getting to watch the athletes and hear their excitement in response to new opportunities like this,” he said.
“I like to ask them, ‘If there were one thing you want to do with your future?’ most of them say it would be to play sports professionally, so getting to watch them play competitively in a championship setting is special.”
Salinas said that participating in OSU Unified sports has been an opportunity to have a different perspective on life.
“When you come out and play with people who are here to have fun and be part of a team, no matter the level they’re on, l think 'Where else would I rather be than playing football?' Salinas said.
While Hoya Unified took the championship trophy back to Georgetown, OSU Unified was awarded the Unified Positive Sporting Behavior Award. This award is determined by NIRSA staff and game officials to recognize outstanding sporting behavior throughout the tournament.
Dr. Stephen Clarke, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Education and Human Sciences, served as coach alongside Tim Jones.
Clarke boasted his pride for the team’s efforts.
“We are over-the-moon happy for our players to be recognized for their incredibly positive and supportive play both on and off the field,” Clarke said. “They showed up to games to support other teams and were present the morning of the championship to cheer on the Georgetown Hoyas — a team with whom they developed quite the camaraderie in just a couple of days.”
Clarke said that the community engagement piece of the tournament was really meaningful for OSU Unified.
“We’re getting people together of all skill levels to go out on a field and play flag football, and have the experience of family and other spectators from the community cheering them on," he said.
Still said OSU hopes to keep the momentum going.
“Our goal is to continue to grow OSU Unified and hope to participate again in this tournament — and possibly basketball in the future," Sitll said. "We feel like this is just the beginning and we can only get better as we have more athletes and partners join us and get the word out about what it means to be inclusive."
For more information on how to participate in OSU Unified sports, visit their website. To make a financial contribution for their continued gameplay and future travels, visit osugiving.com and select the OSU Unified Excellence Fund.