Special Olympics athletes prep for Unified Egg Bowl

Contact: Zack Plair

Demarcus Pippens, a Special Olympics athlete from Central Mississippi, gets in some reps at quarterback during a late October practice for the Unified Egg Bowl. The game, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Mississippi, will feature teams from Ole Miss and Mississippi State that will consist of Special Olympics and traditional athletes. Kickoff for this year’s Unified Egg Bowl is set for 5 p.m. Nov. 16 at the University of Mississippi intermural fields in Oxford. (Photo by Mitch Phillips)

STARKVILLE, Miss.—With thoughts of last year’s loss still looming, Mississippi State’s Unified Bulldogs want to make a statement this year in Oxford.

The Bulldogs fell 23-17 to Ole Miss last year in the inaugural Unified Egg Bowl at MSU, a game that raised more than $12,000 for Special Olympics Mississippi. But with this year’s roster boasting an abundance of talent, Coach Rooks Patterson believes his team can claim the esteemed Unified Egg Bowl trophy in the second installment of the rivalry Nov. 16 at the intramural fields of the University of Mississippi. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.

Notably, Patterson said Special Olympics athlete Demarcus Pippens brought arm strength and precision at quarterback that will allow the Bulldogs to spread the field, while he expects dominant linebacker/receiver Jason Smith – who, despite only having one arm, led MSU’s team with nine sacks in 2014 – to contribute on both sides of the ball.

“We’ve got some good athletes,” Patterson said. “We’ve got some fast guys, and we’ve got a quarterback who can throw downfield. Ole Miss beat us here last year, so we want to go up there and give them a taste of their own medicine.”

Gamesmanship aside, the Unified Egg Bowl provides an opportunity for Special Olympics athletes on both teams, as well as hundreds of others across the state, to be winners, said Jim Beaugez, director of public relations and communications for Special Olympics Mississippi. All fundraising from the game will stay in-state, he added, benefitting Special Olympics athletes and programs.

Special Olympics Mississippi started the Unified Egg Bowl at the height of the 2014 college football euphoria in Mississippi, while MSU topped the national polls and the Ole Miss football team became a fixture among the top 10. This year, Beaugez said, the Unified Egg Bowl is one of 12 games in a national Special Olympics Rivalry Series.

To donate, visit www.unifiedeggbowl.org. The team who wins the fundraising challenge will receive a three-point advantage to start the football game. Last year, MSU won the fundraising challenge, and brought the fanfare of Bully, the cheerleading squad and the Famous Maroon Band to the field on gameday.

“MSU just blew it out last year, and it was great,” Beaugez said. “It’s going to be like that this year for Ole Miss on their own turf, so we’re encouraging true Bulldog fans to come to Oxford and ring some cowbells.”

In the five-on-five flag football match-up, each team has three Special Olympics athletes partnered with two traditional athletes on the field at once. During the hour game, consisting of two 30-minute halves, all seven Special Olympics athletes on each roster have the opportunity to play.

While on its face, the game may seem like heartwarming recreation for a noble cause, Patterson said it means so much more to the Special Olympics athletes who lay it all on the line. The first-year coach and MSU senior communication major from Ridgeland said he saw at the team’s first practice in late October how proud his team is to represent the Bulldogs.

“This isn’t just their Egg Bowl,” he said. “This is their Super Bowl. They are playing for Mississippi State, and they want to win.”

Phi Kappa Tau fraternity members are partnering with MSU’s Special Olympics athletes, and team captain Cody Sheeks, a sophomore kinesiology major from Cordova, Tennessee, said he is excited for the opportunity to participate.

“Being around these guys is a great experience,” Sheeks said. “They have more energy and more passion than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Special Olympics Mississippi hosts five state-level competitions annually, Beaugez said, with athletes in 17 areas across the state competing year-round. Mississippi athletes also compete on the national and international level, he said, with two earning medals this year at the World Games in Los Angeles.

For more information on Special Olympics Mississippi, visit www.specialolympicsms.org.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.