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Jets' Flag Football Spotlight Shines on Northern New Jersey Unified League

Team Partners with Special Olympics to Continue Sport's Expansion, Place Emphasis on Inclusion


This is one in a series of articles that will also appear in the New York Jets 2024 Yearbook, which will be published later this summer.

For the past four years, the New York Jets have been at the forefront of developing high school girls flag football in New Jersey and New York, culminating in flag being sanctioned as an official state championship sport in New York this spring.

In an effort to continue the sport's expansion while putting an emphasis on inclusion, the Jets, in partnership with Special Olympics New Jersey, launched the first Unified High School Flag Football League in Northern New Jersey also this spring. The league completed its first season in May with four high schools — Morris Knolls, Morristown, Roxbury and West Orange.

"It really says something about the Jets organization and how they want to reach their community and make a difference through athletics," West Orange athletic director Stephan Zichella said. "For the Jets to help us reach some of our special- needs population and give them this experience, we are so excited about it, and it makes a world of difference."

Each team in the league had 15 to 30 players with about a 2-to-1 ratio of Unified athletes to Unified partners. They played six regular-season games over six weeks leading to the playoffs.

The Jets have made sizable financial commitments to each team, which includes providing flag belts, uniforms, transportation to games and events, and helping each team hire part-time coaches and other staff.

The short-term goal of the league is to gain enough popularity among high schools in Northern New Jersey to motivate neighboring schools to participate. In the long term, the Jets hope to make Unified flag football a sport sanctioned by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

"The Jets are honored to play a role in the growth and development of Unified flag football in New Jersey," Vice President of Community Relations Jesse Linder said. "It has been an organization-wide effort to make this league a reality and we can't wait to see what the future holds for these athletes and coaches."

"It's probably one of the most prideful things that I've ever experienced here," team president Hymie Elhai said of the Jets' role in the Unified league. "And to be able to give that opportunity to people that may not have had that, what else could you really ask for, right? That's the beauty of football, man. It can actually do so much to help people grow and expand. It's just a beautiful thing to see."

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