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‘Having a blast’
Athletes with special needs have tons of fun in YMCA’s NFL Flag Football program
Football offers a little something for everybody. Whether it’s throwing or running the ball, snapping it, catching it or even playing defense, there’s a part of the game where everyone can contribute.
The Huntsville Family YMCA is doing its part to make sure no one is left out.
Beginning last year with basketball and baseball, the YMCA offered adaptive sports — programs for children and adults with special needs. The success of those programs carried over into the fall when the local YMCA kicked off its NFL Flag Football program.
Smiles were created across the board for 12 local athletes who were split into Cowboys and Texans teams, and their families for the past six weeks.
“He has had a blast. It has given him a chance to compete at the same level and allowed him to grow as a player and develop some skills,” Cathy Schweitzer said of her 12-year-old son, Matthew Schweitzer, who plays flag football as well as basketball and baseball with the YMCA. “It’s just been so much fun.
“It gives (Matthew) something to look forward to. It teaches him a sport that he can grasp and gives him an outlet to be part of a team that he wouldn’t have otherwise.”
Throughout the season, which began with practice in mid-September, the players participated in drills such as running with the ball between cones and worked their way up to playing games.
During games, the athletes, wearing flag football belts, teamed up with YMCA volunteers who refereed games as well as volunteers from Sam Houston State University’s Project Sunshine student organization. Project Sunshine helps organize activities and volunteers donate their time for children with special needs and their families.
“I had a lot of fun. I like football,” Cowboys’ star Jeanette McGee said.
“They have such a good time,” added Lorraine McGee, Jeanette’s stepmother. “For us, it’s just amazing.”
Having an adaptive-needs program for flag football was a smashing success, says Huntsville YMCA community executive director Sandra Clifton.
“It just gave them an opportunity to really bond and get some exercise and socialization,” Clifton said of the participants. “It just warms my heart to see the families come out here. They’re so grateful for the opportunity because we didn’t have anything like this in Huntsville for the adaptive needs.
“We serve both the physical and intellectual disabilities,” Clifton added. “Anyone with a disability at any age can participate. Basketball is coming up next, so we’re hoping to see this program just continue to grow.”
Matthew Schweitzer played YMCA flag football before there was an adaptive needs program and his parents see the difference in playing with other athletes with special needs.