Special Olympics Florida

NCAA All-Americans coach local Special Olympics Florida athletes

Written by: Justin Kline, Plant City Observer

Special Olympics athletes from Hillsborough and Polk counties learned from some of the best collegiate basketball players in the nation on April 5.

Special Olympics Florida and the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association brought a group of first and second-team All-Americans to the Plant City High School gym that afternoon for a clinic, a scrimmage and a ton of fun.

“It’s a really exciting day for our Special Olympics athletes because they have the opportunity to play alongside and learn from some of the best athletes in women’s college basketball,” Special Olympics Florida director Meghan McLean said.

First-team All-Americans Megan Gustafson of Iowa and Teaira McCowan of Mississippi State, along with second-team All-Americans Alanna Smith of Stanford and Bridget Carleton of Iowa State, were the college stars who came out to work with the excited group of Special Olympics athletes. 

“I think it was really important for us to come out here and give back, especially as athletes with the type of platform we have,” Smith said.

Gustafson and McCowan weren’t able to stay for long as they had to attend a mandatory press conference, but Smith and Carleton stuck around to teach passing, shooting and dribbling and play in a scrimmage game with all of the athletes. After the clinic, the two All-Americans hung around the gym to sign autographs and take pictures.

“It was super exciting,” Carleton said. “This is a really awesome group. Just to be out here and play basketball, I think this is awesome because you can have fun with so many different people and have a really good time.

Women’s basketball All-Americans link up with area Special Olympics programs every year wherever the Final Four is being held and put on such clinics at local schools. Though the Final Four has been in Tampa three times and this year’s clinic wasn’t the first in the Tampa Bay area, it was the first time PCHS got to host the event.

“When I was playing in college, we did a lot with Special Olympics… it’s really cool to see them taking the time to work with our athletes,” McLean said. “Just to be able to see them giving back and enjoying, seeing they’re having just as much fun as our athletes, it’s really cool.”