By Blake Ells
Before the 7A state championship is played Dec. 6 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Vestavia Hills will meet Baldwin County in hopes of capturing its first Unified football state championship.
The Unified State Championships are a partnership between the Alabama High School Athletic Association and Special Olympics Alabama. This is the fourth year the championship has been held, and it’s the second in which Vestavia Hills has competed.
Unified teams field five players on each side at a time in a flag football setting; two partners join three Special Olympics athletes for two 20-minute halves of football on a 60-yard field. Partners are recruited from other sports teams at the school – basketball or baseball players who have proven to be excellent leaders.
Vestavia Hills and Hewitt-Trussville are the only two teams in the Birmingham metro area that fielded a team this season, but the league hopes to continue its growth. It came to Vestavia Hills as a passion project for varsity head football coach Buddy Anderson and coach Terry Tingle. The team will treat the state championship the same way Anderson would treat a trip for his own squad; players and cheerleaders will leave school early to head to Tuscaloosa for the game. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.
Senior Jake Pratt, whose touchdown for the football team went viral earlier this season, is an athlete on the squad and one of the team’s leaders. But he’s had a lot of help in leading the Rebels to the Unified state championship. Austin Ballard, Jamarkese Moore, Daniel Morson, Davis Spain, Thad Smith, Phillip Trawick and Wilson Taylor have also made a big impact on the Rebels’ run toward the state championship game. Parker Turner, Britton Rembert and Weyman Prater are the partners who have helped contribute to the team’s success.
“Our kids look forward to it,” said Tingle. “Every kid wants to play, wants to be a part, wants to have fun doing it. Our partners are excited about it. Britton is a new partner this year and he wasn’t sure how much he’d like it, but after he played, he thought it was incredible. They love it.”
Lee County’s team is the only team to win a Unified state championship, taking the win three years straight. Regardless of this Super 7 outcome, 2017 will see a new champ following Baldwin County’s upset in the semifinals. Tingle hopes he and his assistant coach, Ian Waugh, can help bring it home to Birmingham.