Sororities, fraternities use football to fight autism

Aaron Mudd

The Preston Complex at South Campus was the sight of music, socializing and flag football on Saturday as students from WKU’s sorority and fraternity chapters gathered to raise money and awareness for Autism Speaks. 

Mt. Washington senior MeriCate Small, chapter president of Alpha Xi Delta sorority, hosted the all-day event together with her sorority sisters. 

“This is something that kind of hits home with a lot of our girls,” she said. “They have a lot of personal connections to autism so they’re really passionate about it.”

Small said about 200 people played in Saturday’s tournament, featuring 13 men’s and five women’s teams. The money raised went to Autism Speaks, a nonprofit advocacy organization promoting funding and awareness for autism. Small said her sorority met its $5,000 goal and is close to $10,000. 

Small said each member of Alpha Xi Delta had a fundraising goal of $50 for Autism Speaks. Money was also raised from $100 registration fees for each team participating in the tournament, sponsorships from businesses and a fundraising event at Griff’s Deli the night before. 

Sororities and fraternities went head-to-head in men’s and women’s brackets. Bowling Green freshman Rachel Garden scored a touchdown for Kappa Delta sorority in its game against Sigma Kappa sorority. Her team won the game. 

Garden said her friend has a brother with autism. 

“He just had so much energy,” she said. “It really inspires people to just appreciate, like, what they have and not to take things for granted.”

Lawrenceburg freshman Leah Mager also played in the game. Mager said she worked with two autistic kids in an after-school daycare.

“It’s not a disability,” she said. “It doesn’t hold them back from doing anything. They’re not different. They are children and adults too. They’re people and they need to be viewed that way.”

Autism Speaks defines autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder as a group of brain development disorders characterized by challenges in communication and repetitive behavior.

Members of Alpha Xi Delta released a balloon every 11 minutes Saturday to signify a new child-autism diagnosis.

In the women’s bracket, teams were eliminated after two losses. The 13 men’s teams faced single eliminations because there were more teams. 

Louisville freshman Cole Dickerson played in the men’s bracket against Kappa Alpha fraternity. His team, not affiliated with a fraternity, was six points behind Kappa Alpha until Dickerson’s team scored and won with a minute to go after it went for an extra point.

Dickerson said he doesn’t want people with autism to be targeted for being different. 

“I don’t think that they should get singled out and put aside,” he said. “It doesn’t seem right to me. It’s not right.”

KD was poised to face Alpha Omicron Pi sorority in the final match, but later forfeited to prepare for a dance that evening. AOPi won the women’s bracket by default. 

The championship match in the men’s bracket came down to a faceoff between the Southern Gents, a team affiliated with multiple fraternities, and a team from Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, or Fiji. Fiji ultimately took home the trophy.

Small encouraged students to get involved with the Kelly Autism Program, which serves children diagnosed along the Autism Spectrum. 

“I just think that if they can be aware of the signs of autism, I think that’s the best thing we can do here,” she said.