On a perfect spring Saturday (March 24) at Jesuit High School, all of the elements came together for another fantastic Hillsborough County Special Olympics.
A remarkable team effort between the Jesuit Dads' Club and Special Olympics Florida–Hillsborough County (led by SOF-HC director Ken Roop, P '13, '17) that is supported by hundreds of volunteers, including more than 200 Jesuit students, resulted in upwards of 700 Special Olympics athletes enjoying a wonderful opportunity to showcase their competitive athletic talents.
Tampa Bay Rays broadcaster Orestes Destrade set a festive tone as the Grand Marshal at the Parade of Athletes and Opening Ceremonies. During the Opening Ceremonies, Michael Lennartz '18, who has provided more than 400 service hours to the Special Olympics, was honored with the Larry Timmer Heart Award. Dads' Club president John Perez, P '18 also accepted an award for the Dads' Club.
Athletes then competed in track & field and cycling at Corral Memorial Stadium, in soccer and bocce on adjacent fields, and the Motor Activity Training Program for athletes with profound intellectual or physical disabilities took place in the student commons. Across Dale Mabry Hwy, Hillsborough Community College hosted the volleyball and tennis competitions.
The athletes were competing to advance to the Special Olympics Florida State Games on May 18-19 at ESPN Wide World of Sports. Throughout Saturday at Jesuit, they enjoyed a respite of fun and games at the Olympic Village inside the Tiger Palace, and the McDonald's lunches that were donated by Caspers Company.
It marked the third straight year Jesuit High School and the Dads' Club hosted the annual regional Special Olympics, officially named the Special Olympics Florida 2018 Area 8 Summer Games. Spearheading the Dads' Club effort were Ron Battle, P '16, '21, Kevin O'Brien, P '12, '15, Ernie Garateix, P '21, Matt Swezey, P '21, and Mike Crochet, P '07.
The Dads' Club is involved year-round in planning the event, and their dedication to the cause is a cherished annual tradition and driving force in the success of the Special Olympics in Tampa. 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, they lit the Olympic Torch as the school hosted the first statewide Special Olympics. After years at the University of South Florida, in 2016 the Special Olympics were brought back to Jesuit by the Dads' Club.
Founded in the 1960s, today 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 was founded in 1972 and is one of the largest volunteer-driven athletic organizations in the state. Special Olympics Florida–Hillsborough County currently serves more than 1,500 athletes in 17 different sports. The athletes also are invited to participate in Athlete Leadership Programs and Healthy Athletes initiatives. More than 1,200 people from Tampa Bay volunteer each year with Special Olympics Florida–Hillsborough County.
Click below for a photo slideshow from the March 24 Special Olympics at Jesuit. An additional photo slideshow is coming soon.