St. Peter, Minn. – Hollingsworth Field, located inside the Gustavus Football Stadium, has hosted its share of collegiate and high school football since opening in 2007. On a late September Sunday afternoon, the Gustavus Adolphus College Athletic Department opened the doors of the stadium to a different type of football – one that has no use for pads and helmets but adheres to the principles and values of the sport. Hosted on the field turf of Hollingsworth Field, the Special Olympics of Minnesota held its Unified Flag Football Area Tournament, which featured areas 6, 8, 9, and 10.
More than 100 athletes flocked to Gustavus for the first Unified Flag Football Tournament held on campus. Flag football is the newest sport sponsored by the Special Olympics of Minnesota. It is offered as a unified sport, which means individuals with and without a disability are on the same team. Rosters vary in size, but three athletes and two unified partners make up the five-player field-roster. The flag football season runs from August to mid October. For more information on Special Olympics Flag Football, please follow the link below.
“This is the first year Special Olympics Minnesota has offered unified flag football at the area level, and actually the event at Gustavus was our first-ever area unified flag football competition,” said Frank Spaeth, the Sports Program Manager of Special Olympics Minnesota Areas 8, 9, and 10. “It was a great way to get things started. We had nine teams this first year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we double, or possibly triple, the number of teams that participate next year!”
Spaeth went on to thank Gustavus for opening its doors and allowing the Special Olympics to use such wonderful facilities. “A coach from one of the teams participating, who has been involved with unified flag football at the state level the past few years, mentioned that he thought the field was as nice as TCF Bank Stadium, where we held a state unified flag football event last year.”
The tournament began at 1:00 p.m. and lasted until the end of the final game at 5:30 p.m. The full-length football field was divided into three separate competition fields measuring 40 yards long by 25 yards wide. A total of 12 games were held with each team having the opportunity to play two games throughout the day.
Over 80 Gustavus student-athletes were in charge of handling the operations of the tournament. Gusties from across the entire athletic department served as referees, down markers, scoreboard operators, timekeepers, announcers, concession stand attendees, and yes, fans. Those not directly involved with the game cheered and showed their support with signs posted throughout the stadium. The Gustavus Athletic Training Department also pitched in by providing several student trainers who offered medical support for the entirety of the event.
“The support we get from the Gustavus staff and students was phenomenal,” commented Spaeth. “To have members of the football team come out on a Sunday afternoon and donate their time and expertise serving as game officials really helped the day run smoothly. The additional help we received from members of the softball, volleyball, and men’s basketball teams with set-up and running the clocks and scoreboards was also a huge benefit to the event. We also had athletic trainers staffing the first aid and water station. I can’t thank them enough for their efforts.”
Following the tournament, the participating teams were awarded with ribbons reflecting their respective finish. Gusties were at the ceremony to offer congratulatory hugs, handshakes, and kind words.
“Seeing our student-athletes support the participants was the coolest part of the day,” said Assistant Athletic Director Kari Eckheart. “At one point the athletes got together and created an entire cheering section in the stands. They cheered their hearts out and it felt like a Gustavus game day in the stadium. The Special Olympics athletes thrived on the excitement and you could see nothing but smiles on their faces all day.”
Spaeth added, “We are looking forward to continuing the strong partnership we have with Gustavus, and to working with them on unified flag football and a number of other area events next year and into the future.”
Some of the participating teams will compete at the state competition being held Oct. 12-13 at the West St. Paul Regional Athletics Center in West St. Paul, Minn.
For more information on Special Olympics in Minnesota or the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division III partnership with the organization, please follow the links below.