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Notre Dame hosts Michigan in Special Olympics flag football series

| Friday, August 31, 2018

Before Notre Dame and Michigan take the field Saturday night, the rivalry weekend will begin with a different football game. Special Olympics Notre Dame will face Special Olympics Michigan in a unified flag football game Friday on Alumni Field at 5 p.m. The game is free and open to the public.

The matchup is part of Special Olympics’ rivalry series that has been occurring for the past several years; however, this is the first time Notre Dame has played Michigan. The two unified teams will include Notre Dame and Michigan students as well as athletes with intellectual disabilities from both communities — 10 from South Bend and five from Ann Arbor, Mich.

“I’m really excited to represent Notre Dame not only in the sense of the football game with Michigan but also to connect the Special Olympics communities,” Special Olympics member and sophomore Ellie Olmanson said. (Editor’s note: Olmanson is a former Sports Writer for The Observer.)

Sophomore Sofie Palumbo, the Special Olympics Notre Dame event coordinator, said she is excited about the partnership aspect of the event.

“We have had a great partnership with Special Olympics Michigan club since the Special Olympics Notre Dame club started, so we really wanted to host this event,” she said.

Former Michigan wide receiver, Heisman Trophy winner and College GameDay host Desmond Howard will serve opposite former Notre Dame offensive lineman, ESPN’s Mike Golic, Jr., as honorary team captains.

“We’re hoping for a really great turnout,” Palumbo said. “ESPN will be filming and coverage will hopefully be on ESPN or ESPN2 later that day.”

The goal of the flag football game and the unified teams is to promote inclusion among students and participants with intellectual disabilities, Palumbo said.

“Our main goal was to spread awareness for inclusion,” Palumbo said. “Our focus for doing this with football is because Notre Dame loves it so much and there’s power of showing inclusion through sports and especially with a rivalry people are so passionate about.”

The Notre Dame vs. Michigan match is the only flag football game on the calendar for Special Olympics Notre Dame this year, but the organization hopes to extend this event to other games and sports where there has been Special Olympics involvement, Palumbo said. For now, Special Olympics Notre Dame is focused on continuing this historic rivalry which will bring the game to Ann Arbor in the fall for the next installment of the Notre Dame-Michigan renewed rivalry.

“I think it’s so cool that this game represents more than two rivals coming together,” Olmanson said. “It’s a huge step for the special needs community cuing the fact that this is the start of something that will hopefully be a tradition we can look forward to every year.”

Palumbo said Special Olympics would like to have a lot of people in attendance for the game.

“We’re really trying to … make this a surreal experience for our athletes because they’re incredible,” Palumbo said.

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