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Carmel tops DeKalb to win first Unified Flag Football Title

by Will Willems, Special to
Posted: October 15, 2023
2023-24 UFF Photo 1
Photo Credit: Double Edge Media @demllc

WESTFIELD - Carmel Unified Flag Football Head Coach Jamie Stephen knew that she had a special group a couple of years ago, when the current seniors were freshmen.

She watched them help grow the program during their time at the school, and on Saturday they capped their careers with Carmel’s first-ever Unified state title with a 68-45 win over DeKalb.

“I am so proud of this group,” Stephen said. “We have 30 seniors in this group, they have grown in this program together over the last four years and they work so well together. They play to the point where they make sure everyone plays, they sit to make sure others can get in – they are a great team and they have great teamwork.”

Stephen said it started with just three in the class when they were freshmen, but they had such a great experience that they encouraged their friends and others in the school to join.

She said throughout their careers, they always encouraged one another, and even those who couldn’t be on the post-season roster would come out and cheer on their teammates and contribute in any ways they can.

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Photo by Double Edge Media @demllc 


That teamwork and camaraderie paid off for the Greyhounds, who also claimed the school’s first regional title this year after falling in the regional championship game each of the last two years.

“It’s been a long time coming, we’ve lost in (the regional final) two years in a row,” senior Brayton Gray said. “It feels good to finally come out here and get the win. Seeing everyone grow together was great, and we were all seniors this year, so it was really an all or nothing. It feels good to have everyone come together and pull out a win.”

For DeKalb, it was its third-straight appearance in the state title game after winning the title in 2021 and finishing runner-up in 2022.

While it wasn’t their day on Saturday, there was a lot to be proud of for the Barons and the season they had.

“This was a special group,” co-head coach Ryan Baker said. “We are losing four seniors off this team, and we were just happy to make it here. We obviously wanted to win, but this team came together at the beginning of the year and played hard.”

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Photo by Double Edge Media @demllc 


Carmel jumped out to a 20-0 lead, getting touchdowns from Will McKee, Jacob Moon and Daniel Ward.

DeKalb’s Nolan Griggs got the Barons on the board, but Carmel got a score from Gray to make it 26-6. DeKalb’s Myles Dobson and Carmel’s Moon traded scores before the end of the half to make it 32-12.

Carmel got the first couple of scores in the second half, getting two touchdowns and a safety to go up 46-12 on a Stone Stephenson touchdown.

“Right after halftime, when we were in the locker room and knew we could keep the lead – everyone was really excited,” Gray said. “Overall, it was just a fun football game to be out here.”

The teams traded touchdowns the rest of the way, with Dobson, C.J. Putman and Ayden Hoffman scoring for the Barons.

“A lot of our kids aren’t going to remember if they won or lost, they are going to remember having fun with their friends,” Baker said. “They would not have this experience if Unified sports wasn’t here. That’s what is so awesome about Unified sports, it’s giving these kids that experience to be a part of a group and be friends with some of the ‘big time’ athletes on the baseball or basketball team.”

Carmel got touchdowns from Ward, Marleigh Fowler and Joe Gasta in the second half to provide the final margin en route to the first Unified title in Carmel’s rich athletic history.

And while it will be tough to see the strong senior class go, Stephen said the group she knew could be special is going to leave a strong legacy at Carmel.

“They have seen how high people get for varsity football and basketball, and they said they were going to prove themselves and show people what we can do,” Stephen said. “That’s what we have done now, we’ve won state and people are going to know our name.”

DeKalb duo wins Mental Attitude Awards

DeKalb’s Christian Butcher and partner athlete Briar Hartleroad were named the recipients of the Bobby Cox Spirit of Unified Mental Attitude Award.

The award is given annually to an athlete and partner competing in the state championship game.

Recipients of the award are nominated by their principal and coach, and must meet specific criteria to be considered. An athlete must excel in mental attitude, joy, courage, self-advocacy, and commitment during their time in high school. A partner athlete must excel in mental attitude, inclusive behavior, courage, advocacy, and commitment during their time in high school.

Christian is the son of John and Kristy Butcher of Auburn, Ind. and Briar is the daughter of David and Heather Hartleroad of St. Joe, Ind.

The award, established in 2020, is named in honor of the IHSAA's eighth commissioner Bobby Cox, who served as the Association leader from 2011 to 2020. His embrace of the Champions Together project led to the establishment of Unified Flag Football and Unified Track & Field, both co-ed, as sponsored IHSAA sports. A $1,000 scholarship was presented to DeKalb High School’s general scholarship fund in the names of Christian Butcher and Briar Hartleroad.

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Christian Butcher and Briar Hartleroad (center) were the recipients of the Bobby Cox Spirit of Unified Mental Attitude Awards.