WOODBURY, Minn. (KMSP) - Fifty-six teams from around Minnesota flooded into Woodbury this weekend for the Special Olympics unified flag football state tournament.
The tournament attracts hundreds of athletes of all abilities and this year was no exception.
“The sportsmanship has just been amazing,” Michael Latawiec, one of the athletes, said. “It’s something you would never see in a regular football standing. It’s just that the camaraderie is there and it’s just really beautiful to see that.”
This is Latawiec’s first year playing for the St. Paul Magic.
“I was nervous at first,” he said. “I thought I was going to get hit in the face. But, I actually ran and made a couple of touchdowns.”
He said the touchdowns give him and other Special Olympic athletes hope.
“I love when they talk about the flame of because I believe that every athlete can do whatever they want if they put their heart and mind into it,” Latawiec said.
For five years, Special Olympics has provided the platform for just that at the unified flag football state tournament.
For seven years, Latawiec’s coach, Jordin Reeves, has watched as his athletes grow and develop.
“We’re all out here to have fun,” Reeves said. “And that’s the thing. We’re all athletes. Whether you’re a mainstream athlete or a Special Olympics athlete. We’re all out here to have fun.”
That sentiment is shared by new flag football players like Latawiec and those like Chris Morgan that have been playing for years.
“Even though we lost our first game, we still have fun,” Morgan said.
A competitive kind of fun – played by athletes with an infectious kind of energy.
The tournament resumes on Sunday.