Dover vying for first Unified football title

From left, Dover’s Julian Dixon, coach Gavin Schukoske and Da’vion Brown at Monday’s DIAA championship press conference. Delaware State News/Ben Heck

NEW CASTLE – It hasn’t taken long for the Dover High Unified football team to build a following.

In just the third year of the program’s existence, the Senators will be playing for a state title.

With growing support from the community, the team will be accompanied by a spirit bus transporting students and staff members who want to come to the game and cheer them on.

“We definitely got a lot of support our first year and we continue to see growing support, especially with our success,” Dover coach Gavin Schukoske said at Monday’s DIAA state championship press conferences in New Castle. “As the year’s gone on, we’ve definitely seen more and more people in our stands and have had more students and staff members come and congratulate us … it’s amazing to see the support.”

The top-seeded Senators will face top-seeded Thomas McKean High Saturday afternoon at University of Delaware’s Delaware Stadium in the DIAA Unified Football state championship game.

The game is set to kickoff at 4 p.m., which will be between the Division I and the Div. II football title games.

Unified flag football partners students with disabilities and students without disabilities and is partnered with Special Olympics Delaware.

This year marks the fourth championship game held at UD. A pair of Unified exhibition games were held at UD in 2015.

“It’s great,” said Nate Threatts, the manager of Unified Champion schools. “I actually came to this program as a coach from its pilot year and seeing the growth and all the big smiles and happiness of the kids being on the big stage for the first time in their lives is great. Every year we’re growing and growing … we actually have a lot of schools that are sending us interest to join now.”

It’s Dover’s first title appearance, while McKean appeared in the inaugural Unified title game in 2016. Both programs are vying for their first championship trophy.

“We’ve been looking for the state championship game the past three years,” said Schukoske. “We made it to the semis each of our first two years and we finally got the job done and are in the championship game, so we’re very excited about that.”

Following a 7-0 regular season, which included a pair of forfeits from Seaford High, the Senators picked up lopsided playoff wins over Woodbridge High, 52-15 in the quarterfinals, and defending champs Smyrna High, 36-12 in the semifinals, to earn the trip to the title game.

Dover’s inaugural season in 2017 ended with a semifinal appearance, but the team fell to Seaford in the first round of the tourney last season after a 5-1 campaign.

“It feels great,” said Dover’s Da’vion Brown. “I was very, very happy (after the semifinal win).”

“This is the biggest accomplishment I’ve ever had and I’m happy to get to do it with this team and this set of coaches,” added Julian Dixon. “The support has grown throughout the weeks and I’m just excited for that.”

McKean, in the program’s fourth season, went 5-0 before knocking off Delcastle High, 49-14 in the quarterfinals, and Newark Charter, 60-48 in the semifinals, to earn the matchup with Dover.

Newark Charter defeated McKean in the 2016 championship and went on to defend the title with a win over Smyrna in 2017. Smyrna got their revenge by defeating Newark Charter in last year’s title game at UD.

“It’s very exciting,” said McKean coach Jaxon Brown. “To have a good team and accomplish this goal is nice and it’s fun. I’m glad some of our new guys have had the opportunity to experience something that’s bigger than just football … it’s Unified football and it gives students a chance to participate in something they wouldn’t normally participate in.”

While Brown was coach of that ’16 team that made a championship appearance, it’s the first appearance for senior players Aquemini Rodriguez and Antonio Rowlands, who represented McKean at Monday’s championship press conference.

“I think that was the best moment of my life,” Rodriguez said of McKean’s semifinal win. “We’ve just been working hard since the beginning and just pushing every last one of the kids to be their best self. That moment, right there, just made it all feel special.”

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