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Unified flag football expands in Delaware high schools

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Cameron Whittle of Newark Charter takes in a pass as the McKean and Newark Charter unified flag football teams play at McKean High School Tuesday.

Cameron Whittle of Newark Charter takes in a pass as the McKean and Newark Charter unified flag football teams play at McKean High School Tuesday.

MILLTOWN – Da’Quan Scott kept his eyes on the deflected pass, made the catch and took two steps into the end zone.

Then he sent the ball spinning and unleashed the Dab, the dance move made famous by Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.

“He’s been working on it,” McKean coach Jaxon Brown said. “Him and a couple of friends have been working on their end zone celebrations.”

McKean's Da'Quan Scott defends as Newark Charter's Hannah Tressler looks for running room in McKean's 24-14 win in the Unified flag football opener at McKean High School Tuesday.

McKean’s Da’Quan Scott defends as Newark Charter’s Hannah Tressler looks for running room in McKean’s 24-14 win in the Unified flag football opener at McKean High School Tuesday.

There was plenty to celebrate Tuesday at McKean’s Randy White Stadium, as the second season of Unified flag football kicked off across the state. The program, a partnership between the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association and Special Olympics Delaware, brings together high school students with and without disabilities to compete and spark friendships.

Last year, three Delaware high schools fielded teams to play two games and two schools played one game. Now the program has expanded to eight teams, with each playing a four-game regular season before going into the playoffs as part of the SODE Fall Festival on Nov. 12 at St. Andrew’s School. The winners there will play for the first Unified flag football state championship on Dec. 3 at Delaware Stadium, between the DIAA Division I and II football championship games.

“We strive for Unified sports to be recognized as any other varsity sport,” said Kylie Frazer, director of youth and school initiatives for Special Olympics Delaware. “So we want it to be played very similar, with playoffs and a championship. It’s a lesson for any student-athlete, that there are winners and losers in every game. But we hope that they can learn from each game.”

Scott caught two touchdown passes as McKean defeated Newark Charter 26-14 in one of three season openers Tuesday. Mount Pleasant hosted Middletown and William Penn traveled to Smyrna in the other games. Caesar Rodney will play at Seaford next Tuesday in the final opener.

There was a bit of history made at McKean, as it was the first football game in the history of Newark Charter. The school fields teams in 18 DIAA sports, but doesn’t compete in football.

“We made some ventures into Unified sports last year with track and field,” Newark Charter athletic director Greg Shivery said. “We’ve done it the last two years, and we certainly want to get more involved in it this year. I think we’re looking to get involved in about half a dozen sports.”

McKean's Otis Ledbetter tries to avoid a tackle by Newark Charter's Donovan Schwartz in an opening game of the Unified flag football season at McKean High School Tuesday.

McKean’s Otis Ledbetter tries to avoid a tackle by Newark Charter’s Donovan Schwartz in an opening game of the Unified flag football season at McKean High School Tuesday.

Donovan Schwartz, Eric Anderson and Hannah Tressler led the way for the Patriots, playing every snap in the 40-minute game. The school is planning its first homecoming around its first home game, Oct. 4 vs. William Penn.

“It is kind of exciting that we do have football at Newark Charter, but the reality is it’s really more about Donovan and Eric and Hannah and the kids on the other team,” Shivery said. “I worked in special education for 16 years. These kids get it. They understand what the true meaning of this is all about.”

McKean rolled out the red carpet for its opener, with principal Brian Mattix announcing the lineups and big plays and the Highlanders’ cheerleaders adding to the festive atmosphere. The home team didn’t disappoint, as Otis Ledbetter zigzagged the length of the field for a score, Chris Ruiz hauled in a touchdown pass and Markell Taylor-White made a key interception in the win.

“We have a lot of guys who are dedicated,” said Brown, the Highlanders’ coach. “Our partners and our athletes are both committed. They like coming out and playing the game.”

Cameron Whittle and Kyle Mullen scored late touchdowns for Newark Charter, which benefitted from an experienced coach. Chris Muscara served as an assistant under John Wilson at St. Mark’s for 12 years.

“It’s awesome. I’ve been out of coaching football for a couple of years now, so the minute we had this opportunity, we jumped on it,” Muscara said. “… Once I got back out there and started game planning and scheming, it was a familiar feeling.”

There are 43 Delaware high schools fielding DIAA-sanctioned football teams this year, so Unified flag football has plenty of room to expand.

“I think it’s just going to continue to grow every year from here on out,” Frazer said. “With four games on the schedule, then playoffs and a championship, I think a lot of the schools that aren’t participating are going to see what’s going on and want to jump in.”

Contact Brad Myers at bmyers@delawareonline.com. Follow on Twitter: @BradMyersTNJ

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