Chants of “We’re going to win the trophy! We’re bringing home the trophy!” echoed down the hallway Thursday at West Pullman’s Park District on Chicago’s Far South Side. Signs that read, “Good luck Wildcatz!” were taped up against the walls.
Inside the gym was a group of 11 Special Olympics athletes who were all smiling from ear to ear and sharing high fives with one another.
After winning first place in their division in Chicago’s competition, the Wildcatz will be the first flag football team from Chicago to compete in San Antonio at the Special Olympics Texas State Football Competition. For many of these athletes, whose ages range from 23 to 42, it was their first time leaving Illinois let alone riding an airplane.
Brothers Michael Cobbs, 28, and Jamarl Cobbs, 27, hugged each other as they both expressed their excitement to go on an airplane for the second time in their lives.
“I’m so excited to go to San Antonio with these athletes to have fun,” Michael said. “We’re going to win.”
The two brothers have been competing with and against one another through Special Olympics Chicago events for more than 10 years. Jamarl called it a “friendly competition.”
“My brother’s the better athlete,” Jamarl said smiling while look at Michael. “But he’d [say that] about me.”
While the team is confident in their abilities, Michael said the team’s trip to San Antonio has a deeper purpose than winning a gold medal.
“We’ll do our best,” he said. “[Our team motto is], ‘Let me win, and if I can’t win, let me be brave while I compete.'”
Parents of the athletes created a tunnel for the athletes to run through as they boarded their bus.
The Wildcatz will play games in a pool format on Friday to help decipher which division they belong in based on their ability level. Then, the team will play two games on Saturday before being able to enjoy two days in the city before returning to Chicago on Monday.
The trip is being funded entirely by Special Children’s Charity, which Special Olympics Chicago event facilitator Eileen Guinane estimated will cost close to $16,500.
Chicago was the first city to implement flag football into its program in 2008. Next year, Illinois Special Olympics will sanction it as a Special Olympics sport.
Follow me on Twitter: @madkenney