Special Olympics athletes from South Bend, Ann Arbor to compete in flag football game

Special Olympics Notre Dame will host a Unified Flag Football game featuring athletes from South Bend and Ann Arbor as part of events surrounding Saturday night’s football game between the University of Notre Dame and University of Michigan — the first meeting between the two longtime, gridiron rivals since 2014.

Organized in partnership with Special Olympics Indiana, Special Olympics Michigan and Special Olympics International, the Unified Flag Football game will take place at 5 p.m. Friday at Alumni Field (the varsity soccer practice field) on the east side of campus.

The game, which is free and open to the public, will feature Notre Dame and Michigan students together with 15 Special Olympics athletes — 10 from South Bend and 5 from Ann Arbor — ranging in age from 10 to 30. There will be five players to a side — three Special Olympics athletes and two students — during play.

Former Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike Golic Jr. and former Michigan wide receiver Desmond Howard will serve as honorary captains for the game, delivering pre- and post-game remarks and providing advice and encouragement to the athletes during play.

Golic, an Academic All-American during his time with the Irish, currently hosts “First and Last” on ESPN radio. He also guests with his father, former Notre Dame and NFL player Mike Golic Sr., and Trey Wingo on “Golic and Wingo,” another ESPN Radio program.

Howard, the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner for the Wolverines, played 10 years in the NFL, winning one Super Bowl. He currently works as a college football analyst for ESPN.

After the game, the “ND/Michigan Unified Flag Football Rivalry Series” trophy will be presented to the winning team.

The game will move to Ann Arbor next year, in October, when the Wolverines host the Irish in the second of two games in the renewed rivalry.

“Special Olympics Notre Dame is proud to host Friday’s Unified Flag Football event,” said Ben Yankelitis, co-vice president of Special Olympics Notre Dame and lead organizer for the game. “Our team of student volunteers works with the South Bend Special Olympics athletes weekly, witnessing them overcome physical and mental challenges. We are excited to provide them with the spotlight they deserve.”

Jeff Mohler, president and CEO of Special Olympics Indiana, said: “Friday afternoon isn’t just about a football game. It’s also about inclusion.  Students from Notre Dame and Michigan chose to include individuals with intellectual disabilities on their flag football teams.  And by doing so, they change attitudes and perceptions about our athletes.  I thank the student leaders from both academic and football powerhouses for including our athletes in this memorable weekend.”

Founded in 2010, Special Olympics Notre Dame is a non-profit service club for Notre Dame students that provides year-round training and competition in a variety of sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities in the South Bend area, consistent with the Special Olympics movement.

More information is available at specialolympics.org.

Contact: Erin Blasko, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-4127, eblasko@nd.edu

Originally published by Erin Blasko at news.nd.edu on August 30, 2018.