Noblesville High School resource officer Matt Johnston is a firm believer in the value of Unified Sports.
“Unified Sports benefits all that get involved,” Johnston said. “It is a great chance for athletes to be a part of a team and participate at a high level. Friendships form through the involvement of Unified Sports. It gives everyone a chance to play.”
Unified Sports pairs athletes, those with intellectual disabilities, with partners, those without intellectual disabilities.
Noblesville is one of 25 teams competing in the Indiana High School Athletic Association’s inaugural Flag Football State Tournament.
Host Noblesville plays Blackford in the five-team sectional Sept. 29. The winner of that game faces Marion, which received a bye. The winner of that game plays the Fishers-Mississinewa winner for the title.
The four regional championship games are set for Oct. 6, with the four-team state finals Oct. 13 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, the Indianapolis Colts’ training center.
The games feature five players (three athletes and two partners) on each team. Games are played on a 25-yard by 40-yard field. Johnston was asked by the athletic department if he wanted to be involved with a pilot program, which included teams from Noblesville, Zionsville and Carmel. Scrimmages were played last fall, concluding with a tournament Nov. 17, 2017, at Purdue University.
“I have been the assistant Unified track coach and a former head coach for the middle school football program,” Johnston said. “(Athletic Director) Tony Oilar thought I would be a good fit.”
Johnston said he has five returning players from that team. Noblesville has 11 players, five athletes and six partners. .
Blake Buckner said it’s important that he gets a chance to play football for the Millers.
“I have some classes with the players on the team, but during practice, we get to have fun,” Buckner said. “I have made good friends.”
Miguel Mojica also enjoys all aspects of playing on the team.
“I don’t have the same classes as other players, so football helps me interact with other players in the school,” Mojica said. “It’s fun to help each other, and I enjoy playing against other schools.”