Athletics Department Hosts Successful Special Olympics Unified Flag Football Competition

Posted on October 2nd, 2014 by

The Gustavus Athletics Department hosted the Area 6, 8, 9, and 10 Unified Flag Football Tournament on Sunday at Hollingsworth Field.

St. Peter, Minn. — In her first three months as President of Gustavus Adolphus College, Rebecca M. Bergman has focused a great deal on the the College’s core value of “Community”. On the eve of President Bergman’s inauguration on Oct. 3, the Gustavus Athletics Department embraced that key core value by welcoming athletes of Special Olympics Minnesota to Hollingsworth Field for the 2014 Area 6, 8, 9, 10 Unified Flag Football Tournament on Sunday, Sept. 28.

“The volleyball team has been volunteering with the Special Olympics flag football competition for a few years now and it’s a day that I always look forward too,” said junior outside hitter Becca Woodstra (Minnetonka, Minn.) about the event. “This year, like last year, we were fortunate enough to be granted a beautiful and sunny Fall afternoon.  This day tends to bring lots of Gustie athletes on campus together and for such a good cause. Special Olympics offers athletes across a spectrum of all abilities to share in a day of competition and fun.  The athletes exude such joy and happiness, it’s no wonder everyone leaves with a smile on their face and a reminder of why they play their sport. Watching the teams interact, work hard, and support each other reminds us all what it means to be a true teammate.”

With more than 100 student volunteers representing  football, volleyball, women’s soccer, men’s basketball teams, and the athletic training program, the unified flag football tournament was once again an overwhelming success. Still a new and emerging sport within Special Olympics Minnesota, Gustavus was honored to serve as host for the first ever unified flag football competition last September.

Athletics Department Hosts First Special Olympics Unified Flag Football Tournament

Gustavus student-athletes assisted in all aspects of the event including timing, scorekeeping, officiating, and, of course, cheering.

Gustavus student-athletes assisted in all aspects of the event including timing, scorekeeping, officiating, and, of course, cheering.

“It was the second year for the Area 6, 8, 9 and 10 Unified Flag Football event at Gustavus and it was my first Unified Flag Football event,” said Emily Dierberger, the Sports Program Manager for Special Olympics Minnesota Areas 8, 9, and 10. “The day couldn’t have gone any better! It was a gorgeous afternoon at Hollingsworth Field –perfect weather to play some football. We kicked off the day with an opening ceremony, which included the National Anthem performed by Gustavus student Bri Malecha.  Before I could even announce that the games officially open, teams were on the field and ready to play!”

The event began with opening ceremonies at 1:30 p.m. The competition began at 2:00 p.m. and ended with the conclusion of the final game at 6:00 p.m. Over the course of the day, a total of 10 games were held with each team having the opportunity to play two games throughout the day.

According to Becca Woodstra, who serves as one of volleyball’s representatives on the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) (SAVE), the commitment on the part of student-athletes to events such as these reaffirms President Bergman’s emphasis on community.

“Our student-athletes are good at balancing their academics, athletics, extracurricular and other activities in a healthy manner,” said Woodstra.  “Gustie athletes see the importance of taking a couple hours out of their days to make someone else’s day that much better. We are committed to community service and see the value of helping others in need – making our community a better place to learn, inspire, and grow.”

With nearly 200 Special Olympics athletes taking part in Sunday’s competition, it took a collaborative effort on behalf Special Olympics Minnesota representatives and Gustavus to organize and operate the event. Beginning at 12:15 p.m., the Gustavus women’s soccer team started preparing the grounds. From setting up tables, benches, and playing fields, to organizing t-shirts and checking in teams as they arrived, women’s soccer laid the foundation. Each game requires three certified officials, so at 1:15 p.m., members of the football team arrived for orientation and training. As the football players were being versed on their officiating duties, volleyball and men’s basketball players were going through orientation on scorekeeping, rules, and clock management. Those not directly involved with the game cheered and showed their support with signs posted throughout the stadium.

To go along with the set up and tear down, officiating, timing and scorekeeping, and, of course, cheering, student athletic trainers were also on the scene. Senior Dan Bergevin-Smith, who speared headed the department’s involvement, was happy to be involved and said that he and his fellow trainers were proud to provide general medical assistance and first aid response throughout the day.

More than 200 athletes from around the region participated in Sunday's event.

More than 200 athletes from around the region participated in Sunday’s event.

“It’s a nice change of pace from what we as athletic trainers are used to and was a fun and rewarding event to be a part of,” said Bergevin-Smith. “An event like this gives you a fresh perspective on sports. It allowed us a chance to volunteer alongside Gustavus student-athletes and gave us an opportunity to work with an entirely different patient population. The relationship between athletics and athletic training, student-athletes and athletic trainers speaks volumes about community and provides an excellent example of the ‘we’re all in this together’ philosophy you see across campus.”

Emily Dierberger said that it was an honor to have unified flag football at Gustavus and was thrilled to see such commitment to Special Olympics on behalf of its student-athletes and staff.

“The venue is amazing and the volunteers are even better!” reiterated Dierberger. “The students from Gustavus who volunteer at flag football are a big reason as to why it was such a successful day. The energy and commitment that our volunteers bring to each event is extremely helpful and keeps the day running smoothly. Athletes loved the team signs the students made, as well as the high fives and cheering from our volunteers. Things like that make a difference in our athletes’ lives and they make the competitions memorable for all involved.”

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.

Many of the participating teams and athletes will compete at the State Unified Fall Football Competition held Oct. 25-26 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.

“This area is lucky to have a partnership with Gustavus for multiple events,” Dierberger said about Gustavus’ relationship with the organization. “Not only is the facility amazing, but we truly look forward to working with the incredible volunteers who continue to show up year after year. Kari Eckhart, the Assistant Athletics Director is my contact for the events held at Gustavus. She is the magic behind the scenes in regards to assigning volunteers to certain shifts as well as assisting with day of tasks. When you have a competition that runs smoothly because of fantastic volunteers, you can’t help but look forward to next year!”

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