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Special Olympics Unified Flag Football Team Represents Vikings in L.A.

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The group photo says it all.

Vikings Purple, Powder Blue, Vikings Purple, Powder Blue, standing in the California sunshine on a field encircled by eucalyptus trees that swayed when the wind kicked up.

Members of Special Olympics Unified Flag Football Teams sponsored by the Vikings and Chargers intermingled in their custom jerseys, showing the true togetherness that can occur through sports participation.

It didn't matter that the Special Olympics athletes and unified partners were from thousands of miles apart or that they have different allegiances on game day.

What mattered most was that they were experiencing an incredible weekend.

The teams scrimmaged on the morning of Dec. 15 — the Chargers team prevailed 18-12 thanks to the second of two deep touchdowns thrown "Air Coryell" style — and attended the afternoon's NFL game where they were recognized in-stadium.

Special Olympics Unified Flag Football teams play 5-on-5 (three athletes and two unified partners) on a shortened field with modified rules.

Sam Hunt caught a touchdown pass from Bailey Arneson, and Parker Lichtenwalter rushed for a touchdown for the Rochester Flyers, who met up with Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman on the sidelines before the Vikings-Chargers game.

Spielman had signed the players and coaches to contracts back in October when the team began practicing at Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center.

Vikings GM Rick Spielman sat beside the Special Olympics Unified Flag Football Team who signed to play for the Rochester Flyers and represent all of Minnesota in a game in Los Angeles.

The Vikings community relations team developed the idea and began reaching out to 2019 opponents who would like to help create the opportunity. The Chargers accepted, and the teams worked together.

"It was such an honor working with the Chargers community relations team on this program," said Vikings Community Relations Coordinator Quinn Adams. "Their staff went above and beyond to help make this an amazing experience for the Special Olympics athletes and unified partners. It truly was a trip of a lifetime for our Vikings Unified Team."

Chargers Community Relations Manager Chase Hartman described the experience as "amazingly rewarding."

"We feel very thankful that our Vikings counterparts reached out to us and brought us into the fold," Hartman said. "I think it's a testament to how powerful the game of football is as a unifier of people. This is the first time, and we're hoping it can be a model for other teams."

The Chargers lined up Saturday outings to Knott's Berry Farm amusement park and Medieval Times restaurant for the teams to experience together.

"It's been amazing. I never thought in a million years that this would happen," said Chaz Morris, who added that "just getting to be out here and making friends" was his favorite part.

Skyler Ludin, a player on the Chargers team said, "It's always been a dream of mine to play sports and be included."

"I would have never imagined 15 years ago when I was 5, meeting people from Minnesota with the same or different disability that I have," Ludin said, "and then just breaking the ice with them by having dinner or going to Medieval Times.

"The coaches from both teams made sure that a Chargers player would sit next to a Vikings player, so I got to meet lots of wonderful people from the Vikings team," Ludin added. "It just made [Sunday] that much more fun."

The Rochester Flyers and their family members who made the trip enjoyed the immersive experience, and a group back home gathered for a watch party to view the scrimmage on Facebook Live.

"It's been incredible," said Nena Healy, whose sons Patrick and Sean play for the Flyers. "The kids have been ecstatic through this whole experience; from the second they found out until right now, they've been on cloud nine. It's been an awesome experience."

View photos of the members of Special Olympics Unified Flag Football Teams sponsored by the Vikings and Chargers at their scrimmage in California.

Patrick's game-day morning began by meeting Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf in the lobby of the Long Beach hotel where the Vikings stayed before facing the Los Angeles Chargers.

Patrick instantly recognized Wilf and comfortably approached for a quick conversation about their favorite football team.

A bit later, Patrick and his nine teammates gathered before bussing to the game. He explained bio information about former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen in response to a colleague describing Patrick's knowledge of the team.

During the game, Patrick responded to a big defensive play with an Allen-esque "calf roping" celebration.

"That's from watching the Vikings for a very long time," Nena laughed. "He has a lot of football knowledge. He likes to study up and watch NFL all of the time, Good Morning Football. He starts his day with football. He pretty much follows through the whole day with football."

The Rochester Flyers were recognized as the U.S. Bank Hometown Heroes during Minnesota's Week 17 game against Chicago. They received a tremendous ovation from fans during a break in the game. The team roster follows:

Rochester Flyers

Coaches

Head Coach Tyler Runge

Assistant Coach Corey Poppe

Athletes

19 Bailey Arneson

52 Patrick Healy

8 Sean Healy

73 Parker Lichtenwalter

15 Chaz Morris

11 Alex Steffl

Unified partners

7 Kayla Edwards

33 Sam Hunt

12 David Kochan

29 Doug Utecht

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