ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB)– Flag football teams from New York, and from as far away as Florida, raised more than $125,000 for local athletes with developmental differences Saturday. Teams of 13 played all day long at Highmark Stadium in the sixth annual “Buffalo Bowl” to support Special Olympics New York.

“With events like this, we are bridging that gap of getting more people included,” said Erica Raepple, senior director of development of Special Olympics New York. “Giving people with developmental differences a chance, an opportunity to play, and opportunity to make friends, and opportunity to be down on the Bills’ field.”

Locally, there are 3,000 local athletes that are a part of the statewide program, and 13 of them had the opportunity to play alongside their new friends today on the field.

“For a long time, our kids were known as a minority, but with the Special Olympics, it causes special attention to them.” said parent Diane Scheller, whose son played in the tournament today. “As life warps and changes, it seems that people are now focusing more on their abilities and not their disabilities.”

Her son, Joe, has been an athlete with Special Olympics New York for nine years, and was one of the athletes at the original event, when it first started out as the “Snow Bowl.” She said since Joe has joined the program, he has become more confident on and off the field.

“When Joe started, he was just a quiet, shy little guy who stood in the corner and didn’t want to participate.” said Scheller. “Without the Special Olympics, Joe wouldn’t be Joe.”

With football being ingrained in Western New York’s culture, organizers knew it would be a chance to unite everyone, and provide an opportunity for athletes to play and learn together.

According to organizers, it costs roughly $500 to sponsor an athlete per game yearly, and with the funds from this event, they can now sponsor 250 local athletes.

For more information on how to get involved with the Special Olympics New York, click here.

Hope Winter is a reporter and multimedia journalist who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of her work here.