They not only will be representing Pueblo, but all of Colorado at the national level.
And that’s pretty special to each of the 11 players on the Pueblo Crush, a Special Olympics flag football team that is headed to Princeton University June 14-20 for the weeklong Special Olympics USA Games in New Jersey.
It will be the first time a Pueblo Special Olympics team has qualified for the national competition.
The Crush gained their berth by winning the state tournament this past October at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City.
“We’ve always told them, ‘if you get to the next level, we’ll take you,’” Crush coach William Trujillo II said of the upcoming trip. “So, we’re going.”
It will be the first out-of-state experience for all of the players.
At Princeton, the Crush is scheduled for a pool play game, which will determine its bracket pairing.
“We’ve been practicing three days a week,” Trujillo said of the team’s preparation.
Trujillo, who handles the defense, and Norman Maes, who has the offensive reins, have been coaching the Crush for nine years. They are assisted by Trujillo’s son, William Trujillo III.
In flag football, it pits five against five on the field. Offensively, the Crush use a center, a quarterback and a combination of three running backs and/or wide receivers.
Coaching special needs players is no different than any other team,” said Trujillo, noting that his players’ disabilities vary from physical to mental to hearing impaired.
“A lot of them have natural ability. You see kids out there working their butts off like any other sports team,” Trujillo said. “They didn’t get an opportunity (to play) in high school. We give them that opportunity.”
Because of their different disabilities, Trujillo said the coaches “have to get to their level of thinking and a lot of patience. You have to have fun with them.
“We teach them responsibility, teamwork and family to build their confidence.”
The players range in age from “18 to whenever. One is 36 years old,” Trujillo noted.
The Crush’s success is not surprising to their coaches.
“I know it takes a lot to take state. This football team has been an honor to coach,” Trujillo said.
“We told them, ‘yes, we’re going to New Jersey to have fun but while we’re there, why don’t we try to win.’”
The Crush are one of four teams that will represent Colorado at the national games and will fly out together for the games. Denver teams qualified in basketball and softball, while Colorado Springs is sending a volleyball team.
“We got new uniforms, cleats and regular shirts for the tournament. Those are little things that they (players) appreciate,” Trujillo said.
“I’ve been doing this for so long that it’s just a way of life,” Trujillo said of the personal satisfaction.
These days, he’s doing it with a smile. And a trip that’s bound to be a memorable one for 11 special players.
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