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    Special needs children are ‘Champions’ in football

    Thu., Nov. 10, 2011 by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | No comments
    photoLauren Buckley, 9, smiles as she runs for a touchdown during a Champion Football League game at Freedom High School Nov. 5. Times-Mirror Staff Photos/Beverly Denny
    If you've been to the Freedom High School football stadium in South Riding any given Saturday afternoon this fall, you've witnessed a field full of champions.

    Not only are the football players in the Champion Football League of Northern Virginia deserving of the title, but so are the parents and volunteers who help perpetuate the touchdowns and celebrations every week.

    The Champion Football League is sponsored by the Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia to give children with special needs a chance to take part in one of America's most popular sports.

    In its first season, the league each week pits the Steelers, who wear black jerseys, against the Eagles, who wear yellow jerseys.

    The teams line up on the 20-yard line for each play, and a different player gets the ball every time. There is no contact involved, making the league appropriate for boys and girls of all ages. This season, players range in age from 5 to 19.

    On a recent Saturday afternoon, Nov. 5, everyone scored, and the game ended in a 56-56 tie.

    While many players run for touchdowns, one trick play featured a volunteer throwing a pass to another volunteer, who then tossed the ball back to a Champion player, who ran for the score.

    Another play featured a younger player being carried into the end zone by a parent volunteer.

    Along with parents, Freedom High School coaches and students volunteer to make the league a success.

    At the end of every game, there is a post game recognition ceremony, where each player is announced over the public address system. Upon hearing their names, the players run through a tunnel made up of volunteers hooking their arms together.

    Your last chance to catch the Champion Football League is noon this Saturday, Nov. 12 at the Freedom High School football stadium, 25450 Riding Center Drive, South Riding.

    Steelers players include Lauren Buckley, 9, Nicholas Dennis, 5, Huston Fox, 13, Connor Gamble, 12, Connor Garwood, 8, Shelby Long, 13, Zach Millspaugh, 13, Jessica Rutherford, 5, Ethan Spence, 6, Riley Steuart, 5, Nathaniel Thomas, 8, and Cody Wooten, 5.

    Eagles players include Michael Alamilla, 11, Gabby Bautista, 9, Trenton Garey, 13, Miles Hyde, 13, Brien Jones, 8, Joshua Mehlman, 12, Lila Nargi, 5, Matthew Ray, 5, Eliza Schoppert, 5, Jacob “Jac” Schuller, 7, Rohan Munjal, 12, and Kelly Erikson, 19.
    photoTrent Gilmore, 15, a volunteer and a Freedom High School football player, lifts up Brien Jones, 8, between plays of a football game held by the Down Syndrome Association of Northern Virginia at Freedom High School Nov. 5. A couple dozen children take part in the weekly games from Sept. 10 to Nov. 12.
    photoMembers of the Champion Football League team the Eagles, put their hands together before a play during a game at Freedom High School Nov. 5. The teams, led by Freedom High School football coach Mike Mullins, traded off with the ball and ensured each player got a chance to score a touchdown.

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