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Project Unify takes home gold in Seattle

How the Holt team ran together in order to win the gold in flag football at the Special Olympics

The stadium was filled with thousands of people, and the stands glistened with the unison of blue t-shirts. Many celebrities like Marshmallow and Charlie Puth performed. Each state’s teams delegations were introduced, and they walked onto the field one by one. The Olympic silver gauntlet laid above the athletes, lit up by a sudden flame. In July, the national Special Olympics USA Games were held in Seattle in early July of this summer. The ten members of the team Holt High School Project Unify were among those who walked out onto the Husky Stadium field. Paraprofessional Sally Meade was the coordinator for the team that represented Holt and she had a lot of enthusiasm for the positive attitude that everyone had. Mitchell Johnson, a 2018 Holt graduate, represented the team along with junior Jake Fluke, senior Morgan Rockwell, and senior Josh Swenson. Bryce Moore, a junior, is a student at Mason High School, and they all dedicated their time to the program. Project Unify had been around for a while, and it involved a lot of teamwork. In order to cover all of the funds for the teams expensiveness, they had to do a lot of fundraising prior to the trip. When asked what the word team meant to him Swenson said, “it means unity.” There were five special needs students who attend or previously attended Holt High School who were also athletes for the games. Between the athletes and their partners, they all were ready to form a team together. At first, there was a different feel of the team compared to the end. Fluke said “You don’t really get paired off. It was like a team thing, so you just got to get to know everybody.” When it came to working together, they all had found their place with each other. There was a larger difference in how they portrayed themselves in the end. Swenson said, “It’s a little awkward at first...after a while, you get to know them and you get to know how easy it is to talk to them.” As the team worked very hard to prepare, they were ready to compete in Seattle. They had spent a week there to play Flag Football.

"Our relationship became strong, and I think that’s a big part of why we won gold."

The dynamic of the team grew and the teammates knew the bond that they started to have. “...We knew everyone’s strengths and weaknesses...knew what people were good at physically,” said Rockwell. Another member of the team, Moore, agreed. “...It was cool how it wasn’t just partners scoring the whole time it was cohesive and together,” Moore said. With the gold medal in mind, the team all also got to share an experience together. Several students agreed that their relationship with each other became stronger and that pushed them into the win. By the end of the week, the bond was tight. “Our relationship became strong and I think that’s a big part of why we won the gold,” said Johnson. On the first day, the team played the teams from Minnesota and Arizona. Teams with Florida and Arkansas were on the second day. With the last day of Flag Football, they competed against Arkansas again. The final score was 18 to 12, and everyone on the team was ecstatic. There was an illuminating glow that ran around the Holt team when they won the gold in flag football. In retrospect, the athletes showed the country that the typical stereotypes associated with special needs students could be broken. Fluke said, “People tend to assume that they aren’t really good at sports, but there are some pretty athletic kids who were there.” Johnson said he often gets questioned, like many of the partners of the athletes do, if they are the ones who did the majority of the leg work. “That’s not the case,” Johnson said. “Many of our athletes are very high functioning and are really good at the sport they do.” They competed for the win together, and the Holt team brought the bond home with them. Said Moore, “...It was cohesive and together. Everyone played equally, and it was more about trying to have an experience with the athletes that would never happen again.” At the end of the trip, there was a lot of time spent in order to show that Project Unify takes home gold in Seattle How the Holt team ran together in order to win the gold in flag football at the Special Olympics Abby Arsenault STAFF WRITER the team was now a family. They, as a team, made a whole new path for the team who will compete in the games four years from now. According to Meade, Project Unify is even hoping to host a basketball tournament later in the year. In the meantime, the competitors are people who emerging athletes could look up to, and they can model their unity with good sportsmanship. For past team members, they mentioned how delighted they were. Said Johnson, “...I’m proud of them for everything they have accomplished this year and [I hope they] keep up the good work.”

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