A special day for Unified football players

NEWARK — Matthew Bryson got his wish Saturday afternoon.

Playing under the Delaware Stadium glow Saturday afternoon, Smyrna High’s sophomore took the football and rushed it around the left end.

“I like to catch it and run,” he said about the joys of playing Unified flag football this fall season.

After his big moment on the last play of the state title game involving special needs student-athletes and their partners, Bryson shared an extended hug with teammate Sara Miller.

Genuine smiles and a few tears abounded following a 27-8 setback to defending state champion Newark Charter School.

“It’s a very fun environment mixed with the competitive spirit of the game that comes with people all there for the same reasons,” Smyrna coach Andrew Mears.

“The true spirit of Unified is that everyone is involved.”

Speedy freshman Keith Demby took in the big-game atmosphere afterward, explaining the thrill of playing before several hundred fans, the cheerleaders and marching band.

“Basically it feels really good,” he said. “The adrenalin rush hits when everyone is pulling for you.”

The Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association partnered with Special Olympics Delaware in 2013 to provide an opportunity for kids to experience the camaraderie and accomplishment of playing a high school sport with teammates.

Saturday’s event no doubt provided an opportunity to create lifelong memories on the playing field. Demby won’t forget the safety he recorded on the first play of the championship game. The Smyrna side roared when freshman Olumuyiwa Salako made an interception, and quarterback Olyvia

Smith connected with Miller on a long touchdown pass early in the game.

A Unified basketball program debuts this winter, joining flag football, track and field as contested sports throughout the state. There were 19 track teams last spring and 16 pilot basketball programs now involved.

Smyrna and 11 other teams competed in flag football this season. The Eagles went unbeaten during the regular season by besting Middletown, Woodbridge, Caesar Rodney and Seaford, and then topped Dover and Woodbridge in the playoffs to qualify for the big game.

“This year we all came together as a program,” Miller said. “The team became so close and really had an amazing time with each other. These kids are amazing and they really deserve all the good things that come with this.”

Describing playing defense as “fun,” sophomore Scott Russell said he met his best friend senior Marissa McClenton through the program. Added quarterback Smith, “I never knew anyone on a personal level before this, but now I love them.”

Also playing for the state runner-up squad this season were senior Caleb Matthews, sophomore Willie Murphy, junior Brandon Clark, sophomore Ishmael Reynolds and junior Jakir Hampton.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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