League Gives Disabled Kids Gridiron Glory

Parkland football program for special needs children a touchdown

Dozens of kids with special needs are stepping over the sideslines and onto the football field thanks to a new South Florida flag football program.

It's called the Parkland Flag Football Buddies, and it's a unique chance for young athletes, with disabilities ranging from Autism to Cerebral Palsy, to get out and throw around the pigskin.

Already in its second year, the league pairs the kids up with a "buddy" who stays by their side throughout the season, coaching and teaching them the X's & O's. 

The league is the brainchild of Shannon Ferguson, who noticed groups of kids walking the sidelines during a youth sporting event, unable to participate because of their disabilities.

"It's very noncompetitive as you can see, all for fun," Ferguson said. "Everybody touches the ball, everybody scores."

The Saturday games have no losers and no winners, because everybody wins. And thanks to a sponsorship from the NFL, the kids even get their own jerseys.

"After talking with the parents, these kids just want to be treated like everybody else," Ferguson said.

Parents like Janie Kimmet, who son Jarred plays in the league, say the experience is not only rewarding for the players, but also for the buddies.

"You know Jared doesn't have an opportunity to do a lot of physical things, and with his sister being his buddy, she really gets on him to go out there and to run and try and he does a really great job," Kimmet said.

For Ferguson, the payoff is seeing kids who were once just spectators get in the game.

"There's so much support and so much love for those kids," Ferguson said. "When they score a touchdown or just even catch the ball and run two feet before they get their flag pulled, it's like their ESPN moment."

Players don't have to live in Parkland to join the league, and any child with disabilities qualifies to play. For more information, go to parklandflag.com.

Contact Us