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Browns host Cleveland Metropolitan School District Special Olympics for Browns PLAY 60 football fest

There have never been more people in the Cleveland Browns' facility than there were on Wednesday.

More than 900 Cleveland Metropolitan School District Special Olympics athletes and coaches gathered inside the Casey Coleman Fieldhouse for a jam-packed Play 60 football festival with 15 different stations.

Current players Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Tank Carder, Barkevious Mingo, Billy Winn and Phil Bates ran passing, catching and even tackling drills with the students who were smiling just as much as they were running around.

After showing off their football skills, the kids were treated to lunch in the Browns' cafeteria and went through an autograph station with several alumni, including Doug Dieken.

Nearly 30 years ago to the day, the Browns made hosting the Special Olympics an annual event. Some teachers approached the Browns about how they thought special needs students were being neglected.

Dieken was at the forefront of marrying the Browns with this cause. His brother, Paul, grew up his entire life with special needs and unfortunately passed away from complications in 1982.

What started as a small gathering of 30 students and a few community members has blossomed into an annual Play 60 event hundreds around the community circle on the calendar.

Dieken understands more than most what a day like this does for kids with special needs.


"This is what pure athletics is really about," Dieken said. "Kids just participating. It's not really about winning or losing. It's about getting an opportunity and having fun.

"When you are close to someone who is challenged the thing you find out is that they are just the greatest people in the world. They don't have any hatred. They just enjoy the things that life gives you. They might not be as fortunate as others, but they are more appreciative."

The Browns Special Olympics event became such a staple in the community that the team continued to put on the event from 1996-1998, even when Cleveland was temporarily without the Browns.

"We used this event to keep the Browns spirit alive," team historian Tony Dick said. "From something that started as just one player's vision as a party for a couple of kids has ballooned to the event you see today with 900-plus people – it's pretty amazing."

What impressed longtime Cleveland Metro School District athletic ambassador Cal Long was the Browns' flexibility. The event was originally scheduled in February, but had to be canceled because of the dangerous sub-zero temperatures.

"There would be other teams who would've just said, 'OK, see you next year,'" Long said. "But the Browns make this a priority. They know how impactful this event is with the kids."

To this day, Dieken says his greatest moment in sports has to do with his brother, Paul. Dieken was running his own station at a Special Olympics event and lost track of Paul during the day.

"Finally, we get done with the day and Paul had a jacket on," Dieken recalled. "I thought it was awful hot to have a jacket on in the summer. Then all of a sudden he pulled open his jacket and had four blue ribbons around his neck. I gave him a big hug.

"There's things that move you in sports. To me, there was never a moment that touched me more."

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