WARSAW - Fisher Field at the Tiger Athletic Complex (TAC) was the venue for the 2022 IHSAA Unified Flag Football (UFFB) sectionals during Saturday’s a beautiful, sunny, breezy afternoon.

Recent sectional winners were Tippecanoe Valley (2018, 2019, 2021), and Wawasee (2020).

The Carroll Chargers, the 2021 sectional runner-up to defending champion Tippecanoe Valley, eliminated the defending champions in the semifinals 37-19 enroute to a 25-13 title-clinching victory over the Homestead Spartans.

Unified Sports ®, a trademarked program of Special Olympics, creates a competitive environment for high schools to “include people with and without intellectual disabilities” per the IHSAA website. It promotes training and practices among a variety of seasonal scholastic sports as well as competition leading to a state title.

Warsaw and Tippecanoe Valley are among the charter members of UFFB, and each of those squads along with Manchester – another area school – were part of the seven-team sectional field on hand for Saturday’s sectional tournament.

The Manchester Squires lost their opening round battle with Valley 33-14, and the Warsaw Tigers – drawing a bye into the semifinals – lost to runner-up Homestead 27-6. Fort Wayne North Side lost to Carroll 25-8, and New Haven lost to Homestead 44-19 in their respective opening round contests.

Wawasee was moved to the Central Noble sectional field created by the expansion of UFFB among teams in the northern half of the state the 2022 postseason. The Warriors lost their opening round game 59-22 to the eventual Central Noble sectional champion, the DeKalb Barons.

UFFB teams “consist of an approximately equal number of students with intellectual disabilities (Unified

Student Athletes) and students without intellectual disabilities (Unified Student Partners)” per the IHSAA official rules.

The game is a non-contact, “screen” blocking only (if used), flag football format among five players including a snapper. Three of the five players must be an athlete. There are occasions where additional helpers – who may not wear flags nor assist in execution of plays – will accompany an athlete on the field. Helpers must verbally report to the official upon entering the field.

The distinctions between athletes and partners are only identified between the competing teams’ coaches via roster exchange. The differentiation of the competitors is prohibited in press coverage, and from specific mention in any public address or media broadcast.

Teams are also prohibited from using more covert distinctions between athletes and partners. Such examples include different jersey colors, uniform striping, and odd-even number differentiation.

Fortunately, there were no covert uses of such distinction among any of the competing teams in the Warsaw sectional. The 2022 sectional finalists competing on Fisher Field, in fact, also refrained from partner domination, identified as a rule in IHSAA UFFB Section III-13.

Is each of the 35 IHSAA member schools fielding UFFB teams embracing the intended spirit of Unified Sports ®?

Those schools whose coaches and competitors “get it” continually make efforts to graciously counsel coaches and competitors whose inherent competitive spirit tends to hijack the intended sprit of UFFB.

Are Unified Sports ® a big deal in Indiana?

They certainly are.

The assistant commissioner in charge of high school football, Robert Faulkens, is also in charge of unified flag football. Some of the veteran officials on hand for Saturday’s sectional were personally asked by Faulkens to officiate in Saturday’s postseason launch.

Officials on hand Saturday were Chuck Barnett, David Jones, Steve Keck, Mike Kelly, and retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Allen Miller.

Readers can learn more about UFFB and other Unified Sports ® on the IHSAA.org website.