Alabama Unified sports to host its own Iron Bowl

The Quad at The University of Alabama has seen many footballs thrown around over the years. The smiles across the faces of those playing are easy to spot while walking to class or to the Saturday game at Bryant-Denny Stadium. On Sundays, a group gathers on its own to do just that: have fun.

The University of Alabama Unified football team holds its practices on the quad in the shadow of the great Bryant-Denny Stadium. This Special Olympics sponsored team has fun, but also plays in an Iron Bowl game just like the Crimson Tide. On Sunday, the team will host Auburn at the UA recreational fields for a 2 p.m. matchup. This is something the team has been looking forward to for a while.

“Oh yeah, I’m excited," Kemondre Taylor said. "We’ve beat them twice and we were about to beat them a third time, but we threw an interception and you know… But we are excited and pumped up. I’m focused on winning that trophy. I want to win that trophy so bad.”

Taylor is 25 years old and joins players of all ages above 18 on the team. Most of the players are from the Tuscaloosa area and are just excited that they have the opportunity to play a sport. The Unified sports program is a student-run organization and welcomes peers to come help and participate in practice. Unified also has volleyball and basketball available in the spring.

"People say they have disabilities, but we all have some type of a disability,” co-president Ivan Bailey said. “Some of these athletes, people might think they can’t do stuff, but there’s athletes out here that are better at football than me, better at basketball than me. It’s unreal.”

The football team usually has two games a year and traveled to Ole Miss earlier this season. Some of the game's highlights were featured on SEC Nation as Alabama won 30-20. 

The games are not the reason the players keep coming back, though. They love the camaraderie.

“I love hanging around my friends," Taylor said. "I just love to come out here, it is so much fun. You learn how to play flag football and playing beside students and work as a team. I just come out here smiling. That’s pretty much what I do.”

One of players is actually a student, too. R.J. Nealon is the first Special Olympics athlete who is also a student at UA. He majors in sports journalism and wants to one day work in the sports media field. Nealon has been a part of Special Olympics since seventh grade when he lived in Kent Island, Maryland. Nealon is 22 years old and made the move to Alabama this fall to enroll as a freshman at the Capstone. Nealon loves all that he has experienced this year playing with the team.

“I was a new kid coming from out of state," Nealon said. "They’ve brought me in as one of their own and now I’m good friends with all of them."

The Iron Bowl is always a rivalry, but if you come watch these athletes play, you will quickly see they are simply playing for the love of the game.

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