Taunton, Mass. - On Sunday, November 1 - Bye Week for the New England Patriots - Special Olympics Massachusetts (SOMA) will descend upon Foxborough for the first annual SOMA State Flag Football & Cheerleading Games. The season-ending event, which is being sponsored by the New England Patriots, the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation and the King Philip Youth Football League, will be held on the Gillette Stadium field starting at 9:30 a.m.
"We're happy to host this event and provide a unique opportunity for the athletes as a fitting season-ending celebration," said Andre Tippett, executive director of community affairs for the Patriots. "Gillette Stadium is recognized as the home of football throughout New England, and playing on the same field where the Patriots play is a thrilling experience. We look forward to a great day of games and activities."
More than 250 Special Olympics Athletes and Unified® Partners from across Massachusetts, Rhode Island Connecticut and New Hampshire are expected to participate in the event, which will feature Unified 5x5 flag football games, football skills and cheerleading demonstrations. Unified® Sports combines individuals with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team playing as equal teammates against other Unified teams.
The Nov. 1 event timeline includes:
9:30am Opening Ceremonies
10am Football Skill Stations, Cheerleading Clinic
11:30am Unified Cheerleading Demonstrations
12pm Unified 5-on-5 Flag Football Games
2:30pm Awards/Closing Ceremonies begin
Backed by the New England Patriots as well as a growing number of youth football leagues across the state, Special Olympics Massachusetts for the first time is formally offering its athletes and coaches the opportunity to train and compete in flag football, football skills and cheerleading. The New England Patriots, ESPN and the NFL presented SOMA with the 2009 "Fans Helping Fans" Community Service Award and grant at the ESPN Monday Night Football Chalk Talk Luncheon on Monday, September 14. In addition, the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation donated 50 flag football kits to help get the program started.
"We're very excited to bring the benefits and joy of organized football and cheerleading to our Athletes for the very first time on a statewide basis," said Robert Johnson, president and CEO of Special Olympics Massachusetts. "It's the only major American sport our Athletes haven't had access to, until now. And what better way is there to spend a day than to compete with your friends in a sport that you love - all while becoming healthier in the process. It's a championship combination. Yet we couldn't do it without the support and encouragement of the New England Patriots and our local youth football organizations, and for that we are deeply grateful."
On average, the Special Olympics football and cheerleading teams have been practicing once a week during the fall season, competing first at a regional "assessment round" either in Taunton (10/3), East Boston (10/17) or Shrewsbury (10/24). SOMA assessment rounds are mid-season regional tournaments at which players and teams are assessed for ability level, to help ensure fair and equitable match-ups at the season-ending State Games on November 1. All participants who attend a regional assessment round automatically earn the right to compete in the season-ending SOMA State Games in Foxborough.
King Philip Youth Football, in conjunction with the Wrentham Developmental Center, has been helping SOMA plan and run prototype football/cheerleading events for the past four years. During the Football Skill Stations component of the Nov. 1 event, King Philip Youth Football coaches and players will help participants learn the correct form and skills at stations including distance/accuracy passing, place kicking, punting and a fun running obstacle course. Those interested in cheerleading will join King Philip Youth Football Cheerleaders for instruction and practice, with a cheerleading demonstration presented after lunch. The afternoon Unified 5-on-5 Flag Football Game will feature 10 teams on five fields playing two games each, officiated according to SOMA's Flag Football Rules by volunteer referees from local school and youth football leagues.
More information about the November 1 event is available by contacting SOMA's Jay O'Brien at 508-821-3635 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the New England Patriots Charitable Foundation
The New England Patriots Charitable Foundation is the non-profit organization established by the Robert Kraft family in 1994 to support charitable and philanthropic agencies throughout New England. This support comes in the form of direct grants and the donation of signed memorabilia to charitable causes and from Patriots players who offer their direct support by appearing at charity functions throughout the year. The foundation's primary goal is to support programs that aid the youth and families of New England by assisting programs that foster cultural diversity, education, family and health. The foundation has taken special interest in youth programs that encourage education, creativity and development of character.
About Special Olympics Massachusetts
Special Olympics Massachusetts promotes year-round sports training, athletic competition and other related programming for more than 13,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities. Through the power of sport, the movement improves the health, fitness and overall lives of people with intellectual disabilities. It also unites everyone by fostering a sense of community and building a civil society. More information is available at www.specialolympicsma.org or www.specialolympicsma.org/south.