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Browns host Special Olympics athletes at annual PLAY 60 football festival

The Browns welcomed 750 Cleveland Metropolitan School District Special Olympics athletes, coaches and volunteers to their Berea facility Tuesday for the Browns PLAY 60 football festival.

There to greet them were two of the biggest men on the Browns' roster.

Joel Bitonio and Chris Hubbard led the way with the local athletes who participated in a variety of drills during the Browns' annual event, including a field-goal kicking station that saw plenty of promising future kickers convert attempts, and a relay race that had Bitonio reaching for that extra gear.

"I raced them a couple times, and I won once, they won once," Bitonio said. "Just being out there and finishing the race and seeing them smile, knowing that I can go home and tell a story about the race they had and they're going to go home and do the same, it's just fun to interact with the kids.

"Honestly, the kid that I was racing was a little faster than I thought at first, so I had to turn on the jets to catch up at the end."

Along with learning football skills from Browns players, the athletes and coaches also interacted with team volunteers from neighboring universities, including Baldwin-Wallace, John Carroll and Notre Dame College, as well as University Hospitals staff members. Together, they helped create special memories for Special Olympics guests, who were able to take photos with and receive autographs from Browns players.

"I just like giving back, seeing the kids smile and enjoying and having fun, seeing the things that we do here," Hubbard said. "It's just fun for them to come out and do the same thing."

Hubbard said interacting with the athletes and coaches felt much like chasing his football-obsessed 2-year-old son, Creed, around the house. Bitonio recently became a father as well, and while he's not getting much sleep, he's happy to give his time to the Browns' First and Ten initiative.

Bitonio later took the stage inside the Browns' field house as a representative of said initiative to present a $5,000 check to Special Olympics Ohio for a Browns PLAY 60 grant toward launching the Unified Flag Football initiative in CMSD. Through this partnership, athletes and Unified Partners from CMSD high schools will participate in this year's pilot program, which will provide opportunities for students with and without disabilities to play football on the same team.

"This is an awesome event," Bitonio said afterward. "The Special Olympics, the Browns, PLAY 60, they all do an amazing job of really just wanting to help the community out.

"These kids just love getting out and playing, love doing things and to be out here with them, run around and throw the football, it's really awesome. It's something that I love to get out here and do, and to just see the smiles on their face, it's been great. It's a great day, it's a great opportunity and there's over 800 kids here so it's something that I know the Browns are really proud of."

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