SPAR Athletics Partners With Special Olympics to Host First Unified Rivalry Flag Football Game During Bayou Classic Weekend
(Shreveport, Louisiana) – For the first time in the history of the Bayou Classic, Shreveport Public Assembly & Recreation (SPAR) got to partner with Special Olympics to create a community event on Saturday, Nov. 27 that was unforgettable. They organized the first unified rivalry flag football game featuring Special Olympics athletes and Unified Partners that represented both Southern University and Grambling State University. SPAR got involved with the event when Special Olympics reached out to Theresa Gray-Jacobs, superintendent of therapeutic recreation at SPAR. She helped get players from Grambling State and Southern University to participate. Junior high students were also able to participate. They were encouraged to play on the team of their choice. Theresa says that some even chose the school they’d like to eventually go to in the future. The event was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the SPAR athletes.
“A lot of the time we have clients that are in group homes or in homes where parents are physically unable to take them anywhere…with this event, they got a chance to go out of town,” Theresa said. “They got to go to New Orleans and see the Superdome. If you had the chance to see their faces when they walked on the football field, it was amazing.” During the flag football game, SPAR therapeutic recreation athletes (who are already connected to the Special Olympics) were able to play with the Grambling State and Southern University players. Theresa says the game helped all the players develop a camaraderie.
“It was amazing to see them develop this great partnership and camaraderie together. They developed beautiful friendships. It was wonderful.”
The Bayou Classic between Southern and Grambling State has a long history in New Orleans. This year they celebrated their 48th annual game. The flag football game was a great way to allow the Special Olympics athletes to be a part of this historical event. Theresa says seeing the players work together on the field was amazing. “Some people have a fear of the unknown…a fear of working with someone with a disability. This event showed them it’s awesome working with these people. It’s not something they should be afraid of.” Two SPAR athletes won MVP at the flag football game - Juwone Scott, GSU Special Olympics Athlete and Torion Huffman, SUSLA Special Olympics Athlete.
Juwone had a wonderful experience.
"I felt so surprised that I won the MVP of the game. I loved being on the same field as the Saints, the Super Dome!"
Torion said he was nervous at first, but then he focused on the game.
"I was nervous about playing flag football but after I made my first catch it was exciting. I love playing sports with my friends and coming to SPAR. I love coming to SPAR because I get to hang with my friends where I can be myself and I love all the different activities we do; my favorite sport is bowling."
Theresa’s main role with SPAR is to develop recreational sports programs for people with disabilities. She also helps them in their transition to working a job and developing independence. She says this event was a great success and they are already planning for next year’s event.
"To me, it was nothing but God that helped us put this together.”