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Unified Sports brings inclusive flag football game to Tuscaloosa

Nick Sellers

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Amid all the College GameDay excitement and anticipation for the annual showdown between Nick Saban and Les Miles, there was one sporting contest between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers where the score was among the least important things.

Unified Sports, a creation of Special Olympics, hosted a flag football game between special athletes from Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge, La., Saturday in conjunction with the Crimson Tide’s win over LSU. Unified Sports has the distinction of partnering college students with athletes with intellectual disabilities.

“It really helps just unify us,” said student Evan Richtmyer, a partner with Unified Sports who played for Alabama. “The bigger thing is to make sure they have a good time.”

The team from Louisiana took a 19-7 victory over Alabama in the game, which was hosted Saturday morning on the recreation fields. Alabama Governor Robert Bentley was in attendance, conducting the pregame coin toss. Members of the Million Dollar Band and University ROTC also lent fanfare, which was clearly seen on the smiles of Unified Sports athletes.

George Brown, executive director of University Recreation, said it was the camaraderie that made the competition memorable.

“I don’t think too many people really cared about the score, I think they just really cared about the activity and being side-by-side,” Brown said. “I think having the platform of Alabama-LSU weekend makes it more special.”

Bob Bushong, executive director of Special Olympics Alabama, said after the game he hoped the competition Saturday will help expand the reach of Unified Sports.

“This event we would like to see expand into other sports,” Bushong said. “There are a dozen Unified Sports in the Special Olympics program, and we hope the University and other students will get involved and become interested in other sports.”

Brown also hopes the future is bright for Unified Sports.

“I think the University recognizes we have a role to reach out to those less fortunate,” Brown said. “From the recreation program, we hope we develop leagues and programs that do more things like this.”

This is the first year Special Olympics has organized a competition between two Southeastern Conference universities, and Richtmyer said he anticipates going to Baton Rouge next year for a similar flag football game.

As Unified Sports receives more attention, which was the aim of Saturday’s event, footage from the event was shown briefly on College GameDay. Viewers witnessed volunteers, college students and other community leaders reaching out for overall inclusiveness in sports and competition.

“I think the future of Unified is we no longer have to know that we’re ever separated,” Brown said.

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Unified Sports brings inclusive flag football game to Tuscaloosa