Jasper falls short, but smiles, fun aboundOctober 7, 2019
By JONATHAN SAXON
JASPER — There was football action at Jerry Brewer Alumni Stadium on Saturday. No, the traditional Wildcats football team didn’t suddenly find an opponent willing to meet them on Saturday morning to fill the hole in their schedule, but instead a special group of athletes took to the field instead.
The Jasper unified flag football team was up bright and early in the name of competition, and they were joined by teams from Loogootee, Floyd Central and Bedford North Lawrence to play their season’s sectional. Unified sports, which are sponsored by the IHSAA, offer students who wouldn’t normally participate in organized sports the opportunity to experience the fun and competition that goes hand-in-hand with being part of a team.
Jasper High School has had a unified track and field team for many years, but flag football is a new avenue that the school implemented just last season. The team is made up of both special needs (athletes) and able-bodied (partners) students, and for a few short weeks they come together to learn the game, practice their plays, and compete against other unified flag football teams in the area. This season the team was coached by Josh Dahmer, who teaches industrial technology at Jasper and says that he was inspired by the example of Andy Rice, his high school baseball coach, and the work he did with special needs kids while Dahmer was growing up in Evansville.
“The opportunity to coach these kids came up, and I’ve always thought about it in the back of my mind,” he said. “He always had his kids coming with him. He picked them up and brought them to all the games. That mentoring that I got transferred over into my adult years and what I’m doing now.”
Special education teacher Julie Henke also helped coach this year’s crop of flag football participants. Henke has previous experience with unified sports from her years of coaching Jasper’s unified track and field team in the spring, but picking up flag football was a new experience for her. However, the fall experience was just as fruitful to her personally, if not more so, as her work with organizing the kids in the springtime.
“It’s been a growing experience for both our athletes and our partners,” she said. “Trying to figure each other out and what works best for everybody has been a process, but they’ve all done really well and risen to the challenges they’ve had.”
Jasper was looking to repeat as sectional champions this season, and they came pretty close to pulling it off. They were able to get two passing touchdowns from Jordan Preston, three total touchdowns from Maverick Merkel (two rushing, one receiving), another touchdown reception from Kyle Sternberg, and a final rushing score from Adam Nordhoff. Unfortunately, the team came up just a bit short, losing to Loogootee 42-34. But beyond the final result the coaches couldn’t have been more proud of the team.
“They battled all game. We were right there at the end, we just needed one more possession,” said Dahmer. “I’m proud of the kids, they all played hard. I wish I could have played more of them, very proud of the way the kids battled today.”
“They showed up ready to play, and they had a really good time,” added Henke. “For us it’s about the team building they do throughout the season. Today, it showed they wanted to work together and did their best while they were out there.”
Of course the kids would have loved to repeat as sectional champions, but what’s important is them being able to experience the fun of organized sports. They loved playing with their friends and having the opportunity to compete in front of friends and family. Being part of a team gives all the kids a healthy sense of pride, and they can’t wait to do it all again next season.
“We tried, I almost got the touchdown,” said Clayton Mundy. “I like to QB. I like practice. My teammates, my friends, it’s good.”
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