By David Miller
Ivan Bailey is scheduled to graduate in December 2018.
Like many alumni, he’ll return periodically to Tuscaloosa – likely on game days, when finding lodging can be difficult. Bailey, though, will always have a free place to crash.
His college buddies – Brad and Todd Zizzi – look forward to it.
“He’s a real good dude,” Brad said.
Bailey and Brad’s friendship started with flag football. It then led to hunting, fishing and riding four-wheelers together at Brad’s parents’ house. Todd, Brad’s father, is a member of the crew.
Brad and Bailey are college “bros,” but while their friendship has developed like many others, they’ve taken a little-traveled path to reach it.
Brad, 23, is autistic. He attended Oak Hill School, a school for children with disabilities, before enrolling in UA’s CrossingPoints, a transition program for students with disabilities. For the past few years, Brad has competed alongside Bailey on the football field, where they’ve starred for Special Olympics College at UA’s unified flag football team.
The connection was “instant,” Bailey said.
“We go to the movies and I’ve been to their farm,” said Bailey, a special education major. “Brad is very quiet around new people, but out there, you see a new side of him; it’s his own domain. It was mind-blowing out there – he walks around with a machete when we go fishing, and he’ll chop stuff down.
“There, he’s truly himself, versus what society wants him to be.”
Todd and wife Shea believe in Unified football because it aims to change society’s perceptions of people with disabilities. Unified Sports pairs UA students with young adults with intellectual disabilities (athletes). UA Special Olympics College has more than 20 area athletes and competes in football, basketball and volleyball each year.
But for every catch or touchdown that Brad scores for UA, Todd and Shea remain hesitant to “let people get close,” to Brad.
“We’re parents of an autistic child, so we’re guarded,” Todd said. “There have been other programs that pair college students with children with disabilities, but, for one reason or another, those relationships don’t sustain. It can be frustrating. So to have someone like Ivan come in and be there all the time and actually show the love and respect our kids deserve, it’s a rare combination that you get that in somebody. You can genuinely tell they love being out there with our kids.”
Bailey is currently president of UA Special Olympics College. He’s one of a handful of UA students who’ve participated in the program in each of the last three seasons. Brad and Bailey will compete together in the Special Olympics Unified National Championships in July 2018.
“[What stands out the most about Bailey] Just that he was willing to show up and play sports with me,” Brad said.
“It’s a thrill” to watch Brad compete at UA, Todd said. But the greater influence on Brad has been in the bonds he’s created with Bailey, and former UA students Brad Gardner and Matt Hood.
“It’s a great feeling to know my kid and others like him are able to go out and do this, and there are people who are excited to be there with them,” Todd said.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.