By: Domenic Fraboni
I’ve been told before by my student blog managing compadre, Andrew Harrison, that I write too many posts on sports. Well, now is the time to discontinue reading, Andrew, because here comes another one! I write about sport because it is one of my undying passions and can be credited with about 1/3 of the reason for my chosen vocation. I also write about sport because it has become one of the major avenues in which I conduct service work through local Special Olympics organizations; some of you may have read about this in past posts of mine. Over the past six years of continued involvement with these incredible organizations, I have helped out with countless events, practices, and competitions in a number of different capacities. In my most recent experience with Special Olympics, I found out that this organization would be able to fulfill my passion for sport in an even greater capacity than I previously thought.
My football career ended at Concordia College on Saturday, November 8th, 2014 with a 35-26 Cobber win against Gustavus Adolphus College. I wasn’t a particularly great player. There were definitely the guys on the team that were the “stars,” and I was not one of them. I went to practice, worked hard, did my job, and tried to provide an example, and motivation, whenever I could for the younger guys. What I really played for, though, was the family. I have never experienced a stronger feeling of family, of brotherhood, than when I played for the Cobbs (okay maybe my immediate family would edge them out). When my career was complete on that fateful November 8th, I didn’t ever think I would be part of a family like that again. I was wrong. This fall, I had the privilege of playing as a unified partner on the Rochester Flyers unified flag football team.
Unified Special Olympics is part of a movement that has been gaining traction over the past 30-years. In 2013, ESPN hopped on as the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports. In Unified Sport, individuals with and without intellectual disabilities are paired together to compete on the same team. There are now over 1.2 million people worldwide that are actively participating in this movement to help tear down stereotypes about those individuals with intellectual disabilities in a very fun and fantastic manner. There are now greater than 200 colleges and universities and 4300 middle and high schools that sponsor Unified Sports. There are even rivalry games being formed between big schools such as this one between Michigan and Michigan State. Looks like it’s the perfect time to get yourself involved! Okay, let’s get back to those Flyers.
I knew I was going to love playing unified the first day I walked onto the field for practice. It was a cool autumn evening, and a wisp of fog hung over the field. It felt like I was walking out onto the field back at Concordia. The difference: my teammates. Over the ensuing (roughly) 10-week season, I learned that I was playing with a group that was more accepting, loving, competitive, positive, and caring than I ever could have imagined. Every player cheered for the success of their teammates, even those they were competing against for a position. However, this loving and accepting nature of the team did not come with a lack of competitiveness and grit. Bumps and bruises were definitely had. Anger and sadness were felt. And ultimately disappointment brewed strong when we came up short in all three of our games at state.
Yes, we went defeated on the year. The year prior (while playing in a much lower division), this team had great success, clobbering everyone in their path. The let down on their faces after both the area games (we went 0-2) and the state games (0-3) was something I could feel deep in the pit of my stomach. After the state games I felt the need to speak up. I told my team that I had played both on teams that have gone undefeated and teams that haven’t even been close to a single win. It was in those years that I didn’t win a game that I developed so much more as a player, teammate, and person. I also told them that I had seen their growth as football players and how the tough competition added significantly to their progress. It wasn’t until this speech that I realized something: I was back. I had found my family again out on the field. Throughout the season, these guys transitioned from being my teammates to being my friends. I cared for every single individual on that team. I know they all reciprocated that back to me. Play, live, and love unified.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to the Rochester Flyer's Special Olympic organization as well as Coach Alan Watts and all of my teammates for giving me an incredible unified experience as a part of this team.
Author Bio: Domenic is a second year Doctorate of Physical Therapy student at the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences. He very much enjoys having new experiences and learning about topics that are foreign to him. Some of his favorite winter time hobbies (right around the corner) include hitting the slopes, playing city league basketball in Rochester, hitting the snowy trails on his fat tire bike, and trying to avoid shoveling at all costs.