Nebraska vs. Iowa: Special Olympics football teams experience rivalry but also form friendships

Nebraska vs. Iowa: Special Olympics football teams experience rivalry but also form friendships
Members of the Special Olympics Nebraska flag football team who played in a national competition in Seattle. (SPECIAL OLYMPICS NEBRASKA)

The football match-up sounds familiar: Nebraska vs. Iowa.

A pair of Special Olympics flag football teams got a chance to experience that border-state rivalry last week as they vied for a national championship.

Nebraska and Iowa teams faced off at the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle.

Iowa ended up taking the gold medal, with a 24-6 win over Nebraska, which took silver.

Coaches for both teams say the Nebraska-Iowa rivalry motivated their players, but ultimately the camaraderie is what they appreciated most.

“They all had smiles,” said Nebraska coach Joe Volpert. “That’s what counts.”

Nebraska beat Iowa twice during initial rounds of the USA Games, but wasn’t able to pull off a win in the championship.

Iowa coach Rob Wagner said the players got a chance to talk with each other after the game and at the medal ceremony. They players shook hands and exchanged team pins.

For the Special Olympics organization, 2018 is a big year. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics International, the umbrella group for the state organizations.

The Nebraska players were pulled from different parts of the state to form a team for the USA Games. Players on the 10-members team ranged in age from teens to 20s and are from such places as Beatrice, Minden, Papillion and Fremont.

Nate Parks, vice president of programs for Special Olympics Nebraska, said the Nebraska players competed against each other during the regular flag football season as members of their local teams. So it was great, he said, to see them bond as members of the team that competed in Seattle.

“They became friends,” he said. “It’s the relationships.”

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