ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — It may have been overcast on Saturday morning in Orchard Park, but that didn’t stop the athletes at this year’s Sun Bowl from shining on the field of Bills Stadium.
The six-on-six flag football tournament is more than a good time, it’s a good cause, as 57 teams are playing this year to raise funds for athletes of Special Olympics of New York.
This is the fourth annual event, but if the name sounds different this year, it’s because the tournament is traditionally the Snow Bowl, in reference to the weather in March or April, when it is usually held. Even with having postponed the event, the support is still coming through all the same.
“The Buffalo community is fantastic," said Erica Raepple, director of development at Special Olympics New York Western Region. "Whenever Special Olympics has an event, we have people who come out and support us. Because maybe they know the brand, and they see the critter and they know what Special Olympics is. But then they come to the events and they understand who we are because our athletes are out there and our athletes are our stars and they’re always involved.”
It’s not just the Buffalo community, however. The unified sports event brings together athletes and volunteers from across the state.
“Our officials came out from Rochester and the Finger Lakes to volunteer for this event," Raepple said. "We have teams from New York City. We have teams from Albany. We are all over with teams so we’re really excited that the word’s gotten out about this event and people are excited to come back year after year.”
This year, the Sun Bowl will be held as a two-day tournament for the first time, with an additional day of games for amateur, co-ed, first responder, and school-age divisions. Over 30 teams include Special Olympics athletes, keeping in the spirit of the organization’s “inclusion revolution;” but this inclusion comes at a cost. It takes approximately $500 to sponsor one Special Olympics athlete per sport per year, which is why funds raised from the Sun Bowl are so beneficial. In total, the tournament has over $143,000.
“The funds raised for every $500, we’re going to sponsor a local athlete," Raepple said. "We’re going to take care of their equipment, their travel. When they’re practicing, they have to practice for eight weeks before they can compete, so we make sure that there’s different facilities that we use, so we pay for all of that and we never charge our athletes, their families, or their caregivers to train or compete in the Special Olympics.”
Raepple also said Special Olympics New York is always looking for volunteers and athletes for anyone looking to get involved beyond the tournament.