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February 23rd, 2010 at 11:32 AM

The best kept secret in Minnesota

flyers14By Ryan Williamson

This is the first article in a series of articles about the Jets and Flyers by Ryan Williamson

This past Nov., when the football team made it to state, Eagle mania hit EPHS. Facebook events popped up everywhere, and everyone was showing off their red and black.  While the football fever picked up, another team was achieving as much success as the football team without any of the recognition.

The South Suburban Jets and Flyers both soared to the state tournament, considered among the best teams in their respective divisions.  The Jets took second in the tournament and The Flyers grabbed the consolation crown.

Eden Prairie has combined with Edina, Bloomington Jefferson, Bloomington Kennedy and Richfield to start a team that plays other adaptive sports teams around the state.

The Minnesota adaptive athletic association (MAAA) was started back in 1974 by the Courage Center in Minneapolis and has expanded all over the state, and even Wisconsin (the team does not qualify for the state tournaments though, due to MSHSL rules)!  Students can begin playing in seventh grade.

The MAAA operates three sports throughout the school year: soccer in the fall, floor hockey in the winter and softball in the spring, all inside a school gym, “I like all of the sports equally,” said Edina senior CJ Duffey. Edina students Alec Erickson and Sam Cashin agreed about liking all three sports.  EP junior Francis Terhorst has one sport he really likes the best, “I really love Floor Hockey.”

Flyers coach and adaptive PE teacher Dan Slinden had a positive initial reaction to the program. “I volunteered at Winona, and when my wife and I moved to EP 11 years ago, I helped out with both teams, and it worked out that I could coach the Flyers. I was very impressed with the program.  Becky and a teacher at Jefferson started a great program; I hope I can continue the program the way they wanted it to be.”

Bloomington Elementary School teacher and Jets coach Chris Tomberlin got involved because he is a PE teacher, and he had other players join the program. Seven years ago he previously was an assistant coach for the team.

There are two divisions included in adaptive sports.  PI (Physically Impaired): The Flyers and CI (Cognitively Impaired): the Jets. “Besides wheel chairs, the differences are speed.  In CI they are able to run, but the competitive level is just as great at either level,” said Slinden.

Neither team plays games at EP.  The Jets play home games at the Jefferson Activity Center and the Flyers play home games at Kennedy activity center.  When asked about playing games at other schools, “I would love to have a game at EP if I can find the gym time,” said Slinden. Edina parent Paula Duffey also agreed, “I think having a game at Eden Prairie would be fabulous, it would really help the program.  According to Edina para-professional Jackie Awsumb, the Jets and Flyers will be playing softball games at Edina this spring.

Slinden also coaches grade 9 football and JV Baseball, and he says there is not much difference between the Flyers and the EP varsity hockey team. “It’s very much the same, it is as competitive, and they are willing to work just as hard and give 110 percent in practice and games, and they smile just like everyone else.”

EP is one of the five biggest schools in the state, but only has one player on the Jets varsity squad.  Many parents from other schools have expressed an interest for more players to achieve more success in the Jets’ three sports.  Awsumb and Paula Duffey had no idea why EP did not have as many players on the team as the other schools. “With 3,000 students in your school, you should have 50 players on the Jets and Flyers,” said Paula Duffey.

The Jets and Flyers are always recruiting people to come watch the teams play. “People who like seeing excitement and the pure pleasure of watching kids work hard. It is also a fun game to watch,” said Slinden.

I have been one of the biggest advocators in the past for people to join.  My brother was on the team for six years, and it was the best sports experience he ever had. My mom also felt the pleasure of being in the program and making friends she still keeps in contact with, creating a life long bond between players and parents.  I recommend those interested join the program, as I will never forget the success my brother felt as a star of the team, being at the top as a varsity athlete.

These kids work just as hard as any other varsity athlete, and you feel their excitement every time they achieve success.  People should definitely take a look at the best keep secret in the state: the Minnesota Adaptive Athletics Association.