Texas A&M Recreational Sports, the A&M PATHS Program and Special Olympics Texas have joined together to form a unified intramural flag football team for students with and without disabilities.
Four teams made up of students from A&M, PATHS, Aggie ACHIEVE and Special Olympics Texas have recently finished a five-week intramural league competition. Among the athletes that competed, 27 were partner students without disabilities and 20 were adults with disabilities. Seven partners and seven Special Olympics athletes have been chosen to compete in the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association Regional Flag Football Championships from Nov. 8 to Nov. 10 at Oklahoma State University.
PATHS is a one-year certificate program at A&M that trains people to be direct support professionals for people with disabilities. Fiona Allen, PATHS practicum coordinator, said students in the PATHS program don’t necessarily have the same amenities as other students because they don’t pay fees.
“There are just certain things that you are getting by paying those fees,” Allen said. “So because they don’t pay fees, they can’t go to the Rec Center. I wanted to create an opportunity for our students in PATHS to be able to get involved in recreation activities on campus.”
Allen said when she heard that a local group with Special Olympics Texas was speaking with the Student Rec Center about starting a unified team, she thought it was a wonderful opportunity for PATHS students.
“I got involved with Aggie Adaptive Sports and learned that they were planning this unified league,” Allen said, “That was a great way for our students to be able to join intramurals without having to be a Rec Center member.”
Allen said this intramural team is a great way for members of all organizations to learn interactive skills.
“Sports are beneficial for many reasons,” Allen said. “It helps build community, it helps [you] learn how to be a part of a team and have good sportsmanship. It’s good exercise and there are a lot of health benefits.”
Don Calhoun, a coach for the intramural flag football team, said this team is special because it does not exclude people. Instead, it brings them together.
“I think it’s so important to include Special Olympic athletes,” Calhoun said. “My daughter has Down Syndrome and she said — and I think she hit the nail right on the head — that ‘we’re more alike than different.’”
The best way to get to know someone is through play, Calhoun said. Even if the unified A&M athletes have not been on a team like this, Calhoun said it is great to see them interact with the Special Olympics players.
“Some of the A&M students are a bit apprehensive, because some of them have worked with Special Olympics individuals and some of them have not,” Calhoun said. “So it’s kind of interesting to see the relationships built and the friendships built when everybody comes together basically on the same level. You know, they’re all athletes.”
Riley Dunn, a PATHS student and member of the team going to Oklahoma, said he enjoys playing with the unified athletes because they are supportive and help him with his game.
“They’re really nice to me, and they teach me how to scare the quarterback,” Dunn said. “I rush up to him, get really close to him, and then when he throws the football, he misses it.”
Dunn said one of his favorite memories of being on the team so far was when he scored a touchdown at one of the intramural games at A&M.
“One of my friends was on my team and I was running with them,” Dunn said. “He gave me the ball, and I just ran for a touchdown.”
This team offers the PATHS students the chance to integrate themselves into the A&M community, Allen said.
“Our students are encouraged to get involved with the Aggie community and build a community of support outside of the PATHS program,” Allen said. “They take all their classes together, but we want them to feel like they are an Aggie and a part of the community, and so this is just such a great opportunity for them to get involved and feel like they’re a part of Texas A&M.”