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Special Olympics Return To Tampa This Weekend

Eunice Shriver lighting torch for Special Olympics
Jesuit High School
Eunice Shriver lights Special Olympics torch

Over 200 athletes are set to compete in the Special Olympics at Jesuit High School in Tampa this weekend.

After taking last year off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Special Olympics are returning to Tampa this weekend.

The Dads’ Club at Jesuit High School will continue an almost 50-year tradition — with COVID-19 protocols added this year — when it hosts athletes from Hillsborough, Polk, and Highland counties.

Over 200 athletes will compete in events such as tennis, track and field, and soccer skill challenges for medals.

Athletes run on the track in Special Olympics
Jesuit High School
Athletes run on a track in Special Olympics

Andy Wood, the director of community service at Jesuit, said precautions will be taken to keep both the athletes and spectators safe.

“When they're collecting their medals, they have safety precautions in mind, in which you're not going to allow a large number of athletes to gather at one time,” he said. “When we’re going to depart, they're going to be given goodie bags by our Mothers’ Club so those can be passed out one at a time.”

“They're not allowing the same number of people at the opening ceremonies, so we're really trying to take extra precautions as far as the number of people that are allowed at the event at any one given time,” he added, saying that normal COVID safety protocols such as masks and social distancing will also be used.

Jesuit’s Dads’ Club, along with student volunteers, has been working closely with the Special Olympics for over 20 years, but the history with the school goes back even further than that.

In June 1972, founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and then Florida Gov. Reuben Askew came to Jesuit, where they were joined by Tampa Mayor Dick Greco in lighting the Olympic torch as the school hosted the first statewide Special Olympics.

After a few years of being held at the University of South Florida, the Dads’ Club brought the competition back to Jesuit five years ago.

Ahead of this weekend’s big event, Special Olympics global messenger Thomas Shervington spoke in a video to Jesuit’s student body about supporting athletes like himself.

“Anyone can be a volunteer, but I challenge you to be a difference-maker,” he said.

The competition takes place Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Jesuit High School, 4701 N. Himes Ave. in Tampa. For more details, contact Jesuit’s Dad club.

Devonta Davis is the WUSF Noble Radio News Intern for the spring 2021 semester.
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