Earlier this month, you may have seen the Washington’s Special Olympics Unified Flag Football Team raise the 12 Flag during the Seahawks game against the Colts. What you may not have seen was their assistant coach cheering them on. While his athletes may call him coach, we call him Detective Sergeant Maijala.
Raising the 12 flag was just another way to celebrate the team’s silver medal at the 2018 Special Olympics USA games. Sergeant Maijala says, “Second in the nation and a silver medal at the USA games is something we can all be proud of! We could not have asked for a better group of guys to go to battle with!”
Their journey to the 2018 Special Olympics started last December, when Head Coach Clay Williams and Assistant Coach Sergeant Maijala and their athletes from the Federal Way Thunder Unified Flag Football team competed in a major state tournament. Sergeant Maijala’s athletes took home gold, earning the chance to represent Washington at the summer games. For the several months leading up to the games, the athletes practiced two to three times a week, embracing each challenge they faced.
When the games finally arrived, there were nerves and excitement. “The competition was fierce,” said Sergeant Maijala. He adds that the friendships that were developed across the lines of scrimmage, with the referees, volunteers, and everyone else, was nothing short of amazing.”
After all was said and done, Team Washington’s Flag Football Team took home second! “We’re blessed due to the hard work put in by our team to be very successful on the field,’ Sergeant Maijala said.
The flag football team consists of Special Olympic athletes and partners ranging from 18 to 40 plus-years-old. It’s also a “unified” sport, which means it is dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition. It’s inspired by a simple principle: Training and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding. In unified sports, teams are made up of people in similar age and ability, which Sergeant Maijala says makes practice more fun and exciting. “Having sports in common is just one more way that preconceptions and false ideas are swept away. Our opponent is intolerance. Only shoulder-to-shoulder, as teammates together, can we defeat it,” says Sergeant Maijala.
Sergeant Maijala has been with the Special Olympics for 10 years but has been a commissioned officer with the Washington State Patrol for 23 years. Skills in organization, communication, and time management with the Washington State Patrol were instrumental in Maijala’s interaction with the team. Having the ability to manage a full time work schedule along with crazy work hours and calls 24/7 and still being able to manage workouts and practices with the team is a direct result of the work Maijala has done over the years. Communication skills are an integral part of investigative work. Discussing difficult case work with detectives, interviewing suspects, and working with partner departments has a direct correlation with working with players about play development, skill sets, and even life skills.