Puma power

MARSHALL – The Minnesota Vikings will be the host of a unified flag football tournament today at their training facility at Winter Park in Eden Prairie.

Special Olympic athletes from the area are among the eight teams selected to play.

“We were selected out of all the Special Olympic teams in Minnesota,” said Marilyn Strate, a Special Olympics coach.

The Pumas and the Dragons (the over-18 division) of the Marshall Area Special Olympics were selected by the Special Olympics staff and officials, she said.

“It’s an honor,” Strate said. “You have to show sportsmanship – respect the official’s call, respect for your teammates. Several officials commended our team when we played state.”

Strate said the Vikings will practice in the morning, and some of the players will stick around for autographs and photos.

The tournament starts at 1:30 p.m.

Flag football is the newest sport offered by Special Olympics Minnesota, according to the website, specialolympicsminnesota.org. The flag football season runs from August to mid-October, and the tournament takes place after the season is over.

“This is the Marshall Area Special Olympics team’s second year of playing flag football,” said Strate.

Sawyer Stevens, a Lakeview junior, has coached the Pumas for two years and loves it.

“I really enjoy working with the kids,” he said. “They are nice kids and I enjoy helping these athletes get a chance to play in a sport that they might not be able to play otherwise.”

Flag football is offered as a unified sport, which means individuals with and without a disability are on the same team.

“The athletes are from Tyler, Cottonwood, Minneota and Marshall,” Strate said, “and the partners are from Cottonwood, Minneota and SMSU. Everyone is excited. It’s an awesome opportunity.”