Minnesota United Sporting Director Manny Lagos was on hand to secure the signatures of 11 new players on Wednesday for the club’s inaugural Unified team.
NEWS: #MNUFC signs 11 players to make up the first official Minnesota United Unified Team.— Minnesota United FC (@MNUFC) May 24, 2017
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The Minnesota United Unified Team will play against the Houston Dynamo’s Unified squad home and away after the respective senior squads play each other. They will meet in Minneapolis after the July 19th match for the MLS sides, and again in Houston after the game on September 30th.
Manny met with the newest members of the club at the the team’s training facilities in Blaine on Wednesday with the help of club broadcasting staff Jamie Watson and Kyndra de St. Aubin.
Lagos welcomed the new Loons to the club, stating how proud he was to have the new players representing Minnesota. But he reminded them, “we’ve got two big games to play.”
“I’ll say the same thing to you guys that I do when I sign anyone else: let’s go for it. Let’s have some fun, let’s make sure we have a good partnership, and the most important thing is that we put our best effort out there. More often than not, good things happen.”
Next, every player sat at a black-draped table in front of a powder blue media backdrop to sign their contracts. Everyone had to print, initial three times, and sign on the dotted line before they were handed a United jersey and took a picture smiling while shaking Manny’s hand.
“I’ll say the same thing to you guys that I do when I sign anyone else: let’s go for it.”
After this, the new signing got to exercise the benefits of their contract by hanging out in the player’s lounge with members of the senior team. Miguel Ibarra and Jerome Thiesson were on hand to take on all challengers in ping-pong while Brent Kallman began setting up a game of FIFA on the big screen TV’s.
Finally, everyone was brought upstairs to have their official team head-shots taken. After a long day at the club’s facilities, everyone said their farewells and went on their way, all looking forward to July 19th.
Minnesota United’s Unified Roster
- GK — Matthew Glavan, 18 y.o.
- GK/M — Henry Gustafson, 17 y.o.
- D — Andrew Olson, 18 y.o.
- D — Libby Thompson, 16 y.o.
- D — Emily Klippenstein, 17 y.o.
- M — Will Moore, 18 y.o.
- M — Ryan Hunt, 16 y.o.
- F — Mikhail Pearthree, 17 y.o.
- F — Patrick Rzepecki, 19 y.o.
- F — Harry Tuttle, 17 y.o.
- F — Matt McGuire, 16 y.o.
I was lucky enough to score an interview with one of the new players, star forward #19 Patrick Rzepecki and his parents Sheila and Steve.
Patrick is a student at Edina High School. He has an incredibly remarkable, near-encyclopedic knowledge of the mascots of almost every program in the NCAA. His aunt says he is an fantastic dancer and I saw first hand that he would make a great model with the poses he can strike.
The new signing is looking forward to getting to play in the big stadiums on July 19th and September 30th. He and his teammates were warned by Kyndra that it would be hot in Houston when they play there, so they plan on drinking lots of water.
Patrick’s mother Sheila says she heard about the Unified movement through Edina High School. The basic idea of the Unified programs is to bring together kids with and without intellectual disabilities to participate in the same programs together.
In addition to the soccer team, there was also a Unified school play that Patrick partook in that I hear was a must-see. Next year, Edina will have a Unified gym class as well.
Steve, Patrick’s father, has noticed a culture shift in the way people with intellectual disabilities have been treated since when he was younger, and says that this is a good thing. Steve could recall times when kid’s with disabilities were shunned, so to see programs like this where kids reach out to each other is fantastic.
Sheila has said that the program has been wonderful for Patrick; the children who have been partnered with kids with disabilities have been doing a great job. And Sheila believes that both sides benefit. The interaction helps the kids to understand each other, and shows how much they have in common.
The Unified teams are a product of Minnesota United’s partnership with Special Olympics Minnesota which is helping to promote Special Olympics Minnesota’s Unified movement.
According to SOMN’s website, the movement is based on a very simple principal: playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. Unified programs bring together individuals both with and without intellectual disabilities to the benefit of all.
The Unified movement began with programs on the east coast in the 80’s and made its way to Minnesota within the last five years. Special Olympics Minnesota looks to partner with local schools to bring the Unified movement into the school environment.
Nick Cedergren of Special Olympics Minnesota explains that the Unified movement is centered around three types of programs: Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership, and Whole School Engagement.
Unified Sports include programs like Minnesota United’s Unified Team, which places individuals with and without disabilities on the same team to play and enjoy the sport together.
Inclusive Youth Leadership programs are meant to promote inclusivity, as well as providing social opportunities for students who may otherwise have trouble finding comfortable opportunities to socialize.
The Whole School Engagement programs are meant to rally schools around the concept of inclusivity and to make it a value to the student bodies at large.
Schools that incorporate all three aspects of the movement earn the title of “Champion School.” Special Olympics Minnesota is currently working with around 200 schools, 40 of which are Champion Schools.
Edina High School, which Patrick attends, is a Champion School. Nick tells me that Edina put on a Unified production of The Lion King (the aforementioned play Patrick was in) and will be one of a dozen schools introducing Unified gym classes next year.
While Special Olympics Minnesota does have a partnership with every Minnesota professional sports franchise, Mr. Cedergren says that Minnesota United have definitely “taken it and ran with it.”
Jamie Watson and commentator Cal Williams had previously gone to watch the Edina Unified team play at the West St. Paul Dome, and now the club have gone above and beyond to make the Unified team feel “united” with the club.
Both Nick Cedergren and Manny Lagos remarked on how excited they were for this partnership, and both parties agreed that it was off to a very promising start.
Special Olympics Minnesota and the Unified movement are about bringing people who might be a different than each other together.
If you’d like to read more about Special Olympics Minnesota, you can do so here. They are a non-profit, so they always welcome volunteers to help “be the change” and also accept donations.
But, as the Unified movement website says, “Playing unified can be as easy as picking up a ball and inviting someone not quite like you to play.”