On May 29, the first Unified High School Flag Football League in New Jersey came to its culmination: Playoffs and championship games at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in Florham Park. It is not often that one has the opportunity to play at this amazing facility!

The four competing schools (Morris Knolls, Morristown, Roxbury, and West Orange) had played each other during the month leading up to the big event. “Playing against other High Schools was the best”, said Emily Rowe, a Unified Partner from Roxbury High School. “My hand-eye coordination has improved, I feel like I can throw a football now.”

As with all Unified activities, the teams consist of players with and without disabilities, who play together as teammates. “Being part of a team and learning how to grab a flag is what I like best”, said Roddy Guaranda, an athlete from Morris Knolls High School. “I really like to grab somebody’s flag,” he repeated with emphasis.

Not only did the NY Jets host the tournament, several NY Jets players were also on hand as honorary coaches. At times it looked like they wanted to jump in and play as well. Between a couple of plays, one of the pros also tried his hand at sports photography.

“Absolutely amazing and rewarding on many levels, it has been awesome to experience,” said West Orange coach Kristen D’Arienzo. “For many athletes it has been a once in a lifetime experience to play flag football on the NY Jets facility. Kudos to the NY Jets for making this possible.”

Roxbury athlete, Mateo Barraza-Agama added “I want to do this again. It is cool playing with the NY Jets.”

Asked about what he takes away from this experience, Morristown High School coach Bill Mullan said: “This was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot more than I expected. All athletes learn in different ways, and I can use what I learned in other sports I coach.” Morris Knolls, coaches Amy Lieberwirth and Lori Torres shared the same sentiment: “This has been the most fun we’ve had coaching in a very long time. Athletes and Unified Partners always showed up with a smile, and celebrated the little things.”

The games were supported by families and friends, with lots of vocal encouragement and applause. The playoff and championship games were tightly contested, but only one team can win a league. And the champions are (drumroll please): Morristown HS! After proudly hosting the trophy they blasted “We Are the Champions” on the PA of their school bus before driving back home. It is safe to assume they had prepared beforehand for this eventuality.


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