DEKALB COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) — The nearly two-decade long drought of a DeKalb High School team sport competing for a IHSAA title is over.
For the first time in program history, the DeKalb Unified flag football team will take on Franklin Central for the state championship on Saturday.
“It’s a great, great feeling,” said Ryan Baker, who coaches the team alongside his wife, Carol Fike-Baker. “If you look at it, DeKalb hasn’t had a team play for the championship since 2003, which I was in third grade. It’s just a really big accomplishment for our athletes and our community.”
It’s a feat the co-coaches admittedly weren’t so optimistic about prior to the season, since only three players returned from last year.
“We started out we weren’t sure how the season was going to go.” said Fike. “But, we got some great kids to come out and join the team… We’ve had some tough, tough games, like the Carroll game, and then the Regional championship game, but they always come back stronger. So, we’ll see what we got this weekend.”
But the team’s hard work and perseverance prevailed, currently sitting at a 10-1 record. Last week, the Barons won the Regional championship by a score of 46-42 in a nail-biter against Tippecanoe.
Not familiar with unified flag football? Here’s how it works:
DeKalb’s 14-player team is comprised of both special and general education students, who partner up. A team must have a ratio of three special educational players to two partners at all times. The team also has four coaches.
Flag football and track are the only two unified sports sanctioned by the IHSAA. However, club sports are also available. This is the DeKalb unified flag football program’s third season.
“It just gives our students who would never have the opportunity to participate in an ISHAA sport,” said Baker. “This gives them a chance to participate and be part of something bigger than themselves and then as far as the partners go, it gives them a chance to, you know, help other players. It’s just a great program to have.”
Fike added that it’s “always been her goal” to help create opportunities for kids who otherwise may not get them.
The program has also brought the team together more than just on the field.
“[Prior to joining], I didn’t really know a lot of people on this team, so to be a part of this, and the things that we’ve done not only for ourselves but for the school means a lot to me,” said Gage Schnelker. “I couldn’t be prouder of everybody.”
Schnelker added that this state championship run is an experience he’ll “never forget.”
The game will be held at the Grand Park Sports Event Center in Westfield at noon. A livestream can be found here.