LIU Sharks football players took to the field alongside disabled adults. NewsdayTV Cecilia Dowd reports.  Credit: Newsday Staff

On the gridiron at Long Island University, Coleen Mackin pushed past other players, tossed the pigskin and practiced quarterback drills alongside the school's football team.

The Plainview resident who has an intellectual disability said taking part in the Friday workout with the Sharks and a handful of others with disabilities helps her feel more accepted within the community.

“You see me for who I am, not for what I have,” said Mackin, 46.

The event that brought together players, coaches and people with disabilities around football was put together by the Beautiful Lives Project, a nonprofit that seeks to help people with disabilities experience sports and other programs across the country.

“I hope the individuals who are taking part today are able to learn football skills, but most importantly, to realize that there are people who believe in them and who want to help them to overcome the obstacles and challenges in their life,” said Bryce Weiler, a co-founder of the Beautiful Lives Project.

Weiler, who is blind, helped start the organization in 2017. At Indiana's University of Evansville, he had learned how to shoot basketball free throws and three-point shots and was able to sit on the bench for several games, he said. The Illinois resident was also an analyst and broadcaster for several sports, including minor-league baseball and college basketball.

And so, he was eager for other people with disabilities to have experiences with sports, too. He reached out to Huntington resident Anthony Iacovone, who is now a co-founder of the organization. Iacovone at the time was an owner of the New Britain Bees team of Connecticut, a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League. They worked to build the organization, which has dozens of events across the country this year.

Kyle Thompson of East Meadow participates in a football drill...

Kyle Thompson of East Meadow participates in a football drill at the Beautiful Lives Project Field of Dreams Event with the Long Island University Sharks football team in Greenvale Friday. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

“We just try to make anything that somebody [with disabilities] might not have a chance to do, that we take for granted” Iacovone said.

On Friday, Quincy McDuffie, a wide receiver on the college team, said taking part in the event was “special.”

“[I] got to meet new people, got to make people smile,” the 19-year-old junior said. “That’s a big deal to me.”

It was Ann Berris’ first time playing football. “I’m proud," said the 66-year-old Hicksville resident, of the award she and other participants received at the end of the event. 

Elise Olsen of Baldwin participates in a football drill at...

Elise Olsen of Baldwin participates in a football drill at the Beautiful Lives Project Field of Dreams Event with the Long Island University Sharks football team in Greenvale Friday. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

After finishing a football drill, Elise Olsen, 31, danced in the end zone. Olsen, who lives in Baldwin, is a big fan of the team and follows it on Instagram.

Of the event, she said, it “makes me feel part of the team.”

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