Quarterback Joey Sarrica looked down the field to see all of his receivers covered and the opponent’s defensive line coming at him. After two pump fakes, Sarrica took off down the field, past the 50, past the 25 and into the end zone for the yellow team’s third touchdown of the game, securing a 19-18 victory over the green team.

No, this isn’t a play-out of a Sunday NFL game, but rather the Durant High School scrimmage. The Unified Olympics Flag Football Scrimmage Game capped off months of practice for the 20 Durant Special Olympics athletes. Each year, Durant, a Special Olympics Unified Champion School, participates in the Special Olympics, but this year their tournament, which typically includes swim and track in addition to flag football, was cancelled because of coronavirus restrictions.

“Because of COVID, we weren’t able to go to state Olympics this year,” said Unified Partner Emaly Martinez. “So, we kind of just threw this together because the athletes were really bummed out [that they were not able to go to states].”

The Durant Unified Olympics team is comprised of exceptional student education (ESE) learners and their Unified Partners, general education students who are part of the Durant Buddies Program. Durant’s exceptional students take classes like any other student, but receive more individualized help from their teachers, as explained by ESE teacher Mary Gill.

The Buddies Program merges the education of both groups of students. Through the program, the Buddies learn how to work with classmates with different abilities and the exceptional students have the opportunity to make friends and establish relationships with other students at Durant.

“[As a Unified Partner], you go to the events with [the exceptional students] and help them with the sporting rules and then you kind of encourage them to play the sport,” said Martinez.

During the game, families of the athletes and National Honor Society students cheered from the sidelines. Each National Honor Society member made a poster for each of the athletes to display while Durant Principal Gary Graham and Assistant Principal Andrew Holzbog acted as the referees during the game, which ended in a yellow team victory.

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Libby Hopkins has been a part of the Brandon community for more than 30 years. She is a graduate of USF with a degree in journalism. She has been a freelance writer for The Osprey Observer Newspaper since 2008. She also the Executive Director of Center Place Fine Arts and Civic Association. She is a dog mom to her rescue dog, Marshall. She loves being a part of the Brandon Community and she loves sharing positive news about our community.