Twin Lakes was backed up near its own goal line. Fourth-and-long. Already facing a three-score deficit.
Then came the breakthrough.
Allie Wisinski took a jet-sweep pass and continued running to her right. She cut upfield, avoiding an outreaching hand in the process, and bolted.
Thirty-seven yards later, at the 5 minute, 56 second mark of the first half at North Miami High School, the sophomore scored the first touchdown in the history of the Twin Lakes unified flag football program.
She scored six times during the two-game, four-hour event Saturday in Denver as Twin Lakes went 1-1 at the round-robin tournament.
“The first couple plays in the first game were a little ‘eh,’ but … once we got the hang of it, (figured out) where we all played well, that’s when we got better,” Wisinski said. “It was fun playing with all the teams, seeing how excited everyone got.”
Kevin Anderson was at West Lafayette for a Twin Lakes junior varsity football game last season. There was a stripe down the center of the field and other markings near the hash marks.
“We were told, ‘Hey, don’t worry about that. That’s for unified football.’ I asked ‘What’s that?’ and was told what it was, and it sounded pretty interesting,” Anderson said Thursday. “I talked to (Twin Lakes Athletic Director Kent) Adams about it, and he came back and said, ‘Hey, we might be interested in doing that.’
“We discussed it and basically was told ‘If you can get a team together, we’ll put one in.’”
Anderson did more research and consulted his wife, Emily. Emily Anderson was previously a special-education aide at Roosevelt, and was able to give a bit of insight. His thought: “What better way to get these kids out to be available for another sport?”
The Indiana High School Athletic Association certified unified track and field in 2013-14 as a joint IHSAA/Special Olympics Indiana (SOIN) project. Last year, the associations certified flag football and had 25 schools in the first state tournament.
A flag football team needs just 12 players, with proportionate numbers of special-needs athletes and able-bodied partners. Anderson found immediate interest late in the 2018-19 school year.
“The first athlete who came to me during our call-out meeting, (Reece Bartlett) was ready to play that day,” Anderson said earlier this year. “It was toward the end of school last year, and he was ready for football that day. As was I — I’m always ready for football.”
A core group of eight was established, seven of whom played Saturday — four athletes and three partners.
“Coach Anderson kind of signed me up and I was like, ‘All right. Sounds good,’” senior Madi Green said Thursday after a team film session, before revealing more. “He was like, ‘You want to play unified flag football?’ and I was hesitant.
“He goes, ‘Well, I’m putting you down on my roster.’ But I’m very glad I did it.”
Wisinski’s second-semester stint peer educating as a freshman guided her decision: “When I had peer tutoring, I had a blast. I loved it.”
Coach Anderson’s third partner was an easy recruit — his son, Matthew. Matthew said unified flag football allowed him to participate in band, as well. The coach noted all three were chosen because they are athletes — Matthew and Green swim, and Wisinski plays softball — and he knows they are personable kids and up for challenges.
Matthew Anderson caught a pass behind the line of scrimmage and ran for seven yards on Twin Lakes’ first offensive possession, but there was an interception on the next play. It took time to figure out playing at game speed, both coach Anderson and assistant Andy Venters said.
Unified flag football is played on a 60-yard field, with a 40-yard regulation area and two 10-yard end zones. Play starts on the 5-yard line, and a first down is 15 yards. Teams can’t call running plays between the goal line and 5-yard line, and there is also a no-run play zone between each 15-yard line.
The field width is 25 yards.
A 2-point conversion is a play from the 10-yard line, and a 1-point conversion is from the 5-yard line.
Only one defender can rush, and that person must line up 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Everyone must wear mouthpieces.
“They’re out here to play a real game,” Venters said of playing on a high school field. “I think that’s important for the kids to be on the high school field. They get to enjoy it just as much.”
Bartlett put forth his best Andrew Luck impression, completing 11 passes for 228 yards and six touchdowns. He also caught a touchdown from Matthew Anderson, who caught two of his own.
Wisinski ran for 99 yards and two scores and caught five passes for 146 and four TDs. Lewis Rivera and Nico Rivera each scored once. Kristopher Kauffman caught three passes and ran twice, and rotated with Nico Rivera at center.
Green was the lone all-time defender.
Twin Lakes lost, 47-32, then won, 47-24.
“I think they understand the speed of the game now,” Venters said between games. “It’s a little different on a practice field when we put them out there and play half a defense and half an offense. With a full team out there, it’s a little different for them.”
The group watched IHSAA film from last season’s state semifinal and championship games Thursday. Anderson initially wanted 10 for the team, but has settled for eight players. Deseree Stone is the team’s manager. He called all of them trailblazers.
During Thursday’s roundtable discussion, it sunk in for some that their work — and season — was groundbreaking.
“When I showed up for the senior class picture for fall sports, everyone was like ‘What are you doing?’” Green said. “I told them unified flag football, and they were like, ‘That’s awesome.’
“In years to come, I think it will be cool to say ‘I was on the first team.’”