Before the Chargers' penultimate home game at ROKiT Field at Dignity Health Sports Park against the Minnesota Vikings, Special Olympics Unified Sports teams from Southern California (SOSC) and Minnesota (SOMN) faced off in an exhibition game of flag football. In a close contest, the Chargers Unified team from SoCal came out on top, narrowly beating the Vikings Unified team, 18-12. The game was not only the culmination of months of dedication and teamwork from the players on each team, but also, the vision from both the Chargers and Vikings' respective Community Relations Departments.
Special Olympics Unified Sports' mission is to "create social inclusion between individuals with and without intellectual disabilities through sport." Seeing a unique opportunity to impact Special Olympics athletes both in Southern California and Minnesota, the Chargers and Vikings' coordination of this experience began this past offseason, when each team started working with their local Special Olympics chapter to identify players, coaches, rules/regulations, and travel accommodations.
Leading up to the highly anticipated matchup, the flag teams each received customized jerseys to wear at their bi-monthly practices during October and December, as well as exclusive Chargers/Vikings experiences like meet & greets with players and official "signing days" and watch parties at team facilities.
The Saturday before the game, athletes were treated to a fun-filled day at Knott's Berry Farm, followed by dinner and a show at Medieval Times…resulting in quickly formed friendships before the teams faced off in the friendly, but competitive game on the gridiron.
The Chargers Unified roster included Special Olympics athletes Sean Araque, Max Grasso, Justin Handlon, Alex Hunt, Chris Jones and Skyler Ludin; and Unified participants, Konnor Armijo, Tyler DeTrinidad, Aaron Ecsedy, Bryn Fedderson and Joseph Giles, officers from the Huntington Beach Police Department.
Once the flag football game ended, athletes from both teams had a special pregame field visit where they watched warmups, took pictures and were greeted by several players. Also, they were selected to run out of the tunnel onto the field prior to the Chargers player introductions and national anthem. To conclude an already memorable experience, SOSC athletes also met tight end Hunter Henry and quarterback Tyrod Taylor for a postgame visit.
To learn more about Special Olympics Southern California – please visit www.sosc.org
Ahead of Week 15, the Chargers and Vikings partnered to host a flag football game for Special Olympics athletes and partners from both Southern California and Minnesota prior to the Vikings/Chargers game at Dignity Health Sports Park. After the flag game, the teams were celebrated on the field prior to kickoff for their outstanding sportsmanship and passion.