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Special needs youth take the field in Palmdale


Flag football at Highland High

A different kind of special teams took to the football field this week at Highland High School in a program that gives all students a chance to shine and play as all stars.

Teams of special needs students from Highland High School and Pete Knight High School played a Prime Time Games flag football game Tuesday night. Knight won the game, 24-18, but all the players received star treatment from fans, parents, mentors and staff who attended.

“It’s been a hit. Everybody’s been having a really great time,” said Jennifer Slater-Sanchez, a teacher at Highland High School.

There are six flag football teams, made up of students from the high schools in the Antelope Valley, playing in the Prime Time Games. Flag football is one of the sports the Prime Time Games organizes for the special needs students at the high schools.

“It’s really important for kids to be involved in something at their school. Not every kid is a CIF athlete and not every kid has the grades or the attendance or the behavior to be involved in something at their school,” Slater-Sanchez said. “But every kid has the opportunity to mentor or be a buddy to somebody else. We put our heads together, we have support from our cabinet members and our board members and lots of great staff at all of the school sites who put in the hours and practice time to provide this great opportunity for all of our students.”

Alvaro Nando Pineda is a student at Highland High School and the president of Best Buddies, which works with Prime Time Games to organize games and teams. He has a 4-year-old brother with autism and said he would like to see a program still operating when his brother is old enough to attend high school. “It was great to see what was happening tonight,” Pineda said.

Prime Time Games started in 2004 as a full-inclusion, peer-mentor sports program. Students coach and play with students with developmental disabilities on the teams. There are three 10-week seasons for different sports, one each in fall, winter and spring. The fall and spring seasons culminate with a championship Saturday hosted by the UCLA Athletic Department.

“Watching them play and watching them unite together, it doesn’t matter what school you’re from, but it matters that you are playing together as a whole,” Pineda said. “It’s really amazing to see that.”