For Zionsville High School special education teacher Rachel Kniager, getting involved with the school’s Unified Flag Football team was an easy decision.
“Last year, a colleague reached out about piloting a flag football team and asked if I would be interested in coaching,” Kniager said. “I was playing in my own flag football league at the time, so I thought it was a great opportunity for our school community. I am excited to see where we can take this team and program in the years to come.”
In 2017, Noblesville, Carmel and Zionsville did a test run of Unified Flag Football for the state with scrimmages. ZCHS is one of 25 teams that will participate in the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s Unified Flag Football State Tournament. Zionsville is playing in a two-team sectional and will host West Lafayette in the sectional final.
Unified Sports pairs athletes, those with intellectual disabilities, with partners, those without intellectual disabilities.
The games feature five players (three athletes and two partners) on each team. Games are played on a 25-yard by 40-yard field. The four regional championship games are set for Oct. 6 with the four-team state finals Oct. 13 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, the Indianapolis Colts’ training center.
Six players returned from last season’s team, which started slowly but finished strong. There are 10 players competing, six athletes and four partners.
“We have students with all types of abilities on our teams. Every student has something to offer,” said Kniager, who is juggling time with her position as ZCHS assistant girls soccer coach this fall. “All students have strengths, regardless of their abilities, and Unified events allows students to showcase their strengths and talents and be celebrated by their community. Unified events allow students of all backgrounds to come together for a greater purpose and share pride in their community. Unified Sports are just like typical sports. They are competitive, filled with pride and fun for all involved.”
ZCHS player Nathan Ziesmer said Unified Sports “gives people with disabilities a chance to play competitive sports and allows them to participate fully without being held back by their disability, whatever it may be.”
Ziesmer said it allows him to meet new people he might not interact with during the normal school day.
“It’s just like any other club or activity and it helps you branch out to others, meet new people and have fun while doing it,” he said.