The annual renewal of the Special Olympics at Jesuit High School on Saturday (March 26) was phenomenal. Some 600 athletes supported by nearly 400 volunteers staged the extraordinary event for the 51st year in Florida.
A juggler on stilts, Star Wars characters, and a dynamic Olympic Village elevated the event, but at its core the Hillsborough & Pinellas Summer Games was once again a beautiful and inspiring connective human experience, as the athletes reveled in the joy of competing and the opportunity to advance to statewide and national events.
All of the athletes marched in the Parade of Champions around the Jesuit track to open the event, and Grand Marshal Dwight Smith from the 2002 Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers helped get things started along with a helicopter flyover from the Tampa Police Department. Matthew Dunne from Durant High School read the athlete’s oath, and Leah Wood from Freedom High School read the volunteer’s oath, and the games began! (Click here to view a photo slideshow.)
The athletes competed in bocce, soccer, cheerleading, track & field, cycling, and volleyball, with the volleyball taking place at Shorecrest Prep. Winners advanced to the statewide competition later this spring.
As they have since the event’s inception in Florida five decades ago, the Jesuit Dads’ Club engaged in all aspects of planning, coordinating, and operating the event. To commemorate their five decades-plus direct involvement in the Special Olympics, Ken Roop, P '13, '17, a director with the Special Olympics, presented Dads’ Club president Mike Wasylik ’88, P ’21, '24, with a beautiful, customized Olympic torch during Saturday's Opening Ceremonies.
Volunteers and enthusiasm helped make the day extraordinary. More than 200 Jesuit students supported the athletes throughout, and the Mothers’ Club provided a variety of critical assistance, from distribution of the lunchtime Jersey Mike’s subs to athlete check-in. As always the Tampa Rough Riders created a buzz around the medal stands, recognizing all of the athletes as they received their awards.
As happens every year, the build-up for the Special Olympics at Jesuit was elevated by a Convocation presentation from Thomas Shervington during the week leading up. Shervington, a Global Messenger for the Special Olympics, spoke to the student body about the extraordinary impact the Special Olympics has made on his life.
The Dads' Club and Jesuit students have been a driving force in the success of the Special Olympics in Tampa, and Jesuit's involvement dates back to the roots of Special Olympics Florida. On June 3, 1972, Eunice Kennedy Shriver (the founder of the Special Olympics) and Gov. Reubin Askew came to Jesuit and, along with Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, lit the Olympic Torch as the school hosted the first statewide Special Olympics. In 2016, after years at the University of South Florida, the Special Olympics were brought back to Jesuit by the Dads' Club.
Founded in the 1960s, Special Olympics Inc. is the world's largest provider of fitness training, education, and athletic competition – coupled with social, life, and leadership skill development opportunities – for children and adults with intellectual disabilities or a similar developmental disability. Special Olympics Florida is one of the largest volunteer-driven athletic organizations in the state. More than 1,200 people from Tampa Bay volunteer each year with Special Olympics Florida – West Coast Region.
Click here to view a photo slideshow from the 2023 Special Olympics at Jesuit.