Little City’s Special Olympics program made new strides in 2022, fielding a flag football team for the first time and finding immediate success thanks to leaders like Robbie and Jimmy.

Despite a short season of six weeks and having never played football together before, Little City’s team took second place at the regional tournament held at Northern Illinois University’s football stadium thanks to the leadership and great play of Robbie, who emerged as the starting quarterback, and longtime Special Olympics star Jimmy as wide receiver.

“It was a ton of fun,” Robbie said. “We’re going to try to win state next year.”

The idea to try flag football came from the success the softball team had and wanting to stay together and compete after the season was over. Seven of the 13 people who were part of Little City’s first flag football team came from the softball squad and that helped revitalize an energy and chemistry that helped with learning the new sport for the first time.

While it was a long process to learn the rules, practice plays and discover what each player was good at, Special Olympics coach and recreational therapist Eli Vazquez Martinez said that process helps build life skills and social skills the team can use in everyday life.

“Communication is really the key difference between team sports and some of the more individual sports we do,” Eli said. “They have to work on talking to each other, trusting each other, and keeping each other involved. It’s skills that go beyond football.”

During the short six-week season, the football team played three games locally before heading to NIU for the regional competition where they came up just short in the game to decide who went to the state finals. But with a year under their belts, Jacob said they expect to start the season earlier in 2023 and have more players interested in joining the team.

With flag football part of the schedule, Little City’s Special Olympics program now has team sports year-round with basketball, volleyball, football and softball in addition to the more individualized sports such as swimming, powerlifting, and many more.

Eli said the Special Olympics program and entire recreational program is always looking for feedback on what the participants are interested in and looking for ways to add classes and sports to appeal to as many people as possible.

“It’s always exciting when a new sport can be added and I already have heard a few people asking to join the football team next year,” Eli said. “Everyone had a lot of fun, and it was great to see them all grow as the year went on.”

When you support programs like our Special Olympics and recreational teams, your impact is a revitalization that goes beyond the sport – individuals are provided with an environment to develop and strengthen their life and social skills that can be applied throughout every day.

Over 800 hours of Special Olympics sports and activities were provided to individuals with disabilities in 2022 – including softball, basketball, powerlifting, swimming, golf, track & field, bowling, volleyball, boccee … and now flag football!