It has been another transformational quarter for our organization. We started the summer by cheering for 16 of our athletes competing at the global level representing the USA at the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles. The world watched as our athletes achieved their personal best and shared moments of celebration throughout the competition. The ESPN broadcast was seen by over 20.16 million people in the US and by another 1.8 million online, as ESPN’s website also helped to amplify the games through digital and social media.
Our summer sports, including Stand-Up Paddle, Surfing, Golf and Aquatics, were filled with many more new opportunities and new faces. Athlete participation was up 9% overall in these sports, growth supported by our incredible 2,270 coaches statewide. We hosted State Stand-Up Paddle competition in a new watersports venue on Florida’s West Coast, Nathan Benderson Park, and celebrated our tenth year of aquatics competition at the North County Aquatics Center in South Florida. Once again our friends at Ron Jon, Disney and the Indian River Recreational department did a fabulous job providing engaging volunteers and sharing their industry knowledge to enhance our summer competitions. A special thank you to all the county directors, coaches, program team and head of delegations for your leadership – we couldn’t do it without you!
Valuing the wellness of all athletes, our health programs team introduced the sun patrol during summer sports, ensuring everyone learned the benefits of wearing sun screen and staying hydrated. Sun patrol had a presence at all of the summer state events and we even had 5 dermatologists join us for full body screenings at our State Surfing competition. Additionally, we celebrated the grand opening of our Healthy Community site in Tampa Bay to an excited and energized West Coast community. Leadership from USF, St. Joseph’s Hospital and many other key community stakeholders were on hand and ready to take on larger roles in serving our athletes in the area of health and wellness. In the past 12 months (ending in June), our health programs were able to provide more than $1.5 million in health care services and equipment to our athletes and to those clients on the APD waitlist.
Recognizing the need for financial sustainability we are proud to share that Special Olympics Florida had a record TD Bank fundraising campaign. Thanks to the leadership at TD Bank, our development team and all of our county directors and athletes, we were able to increase dollars raised while sharing awareness about our mission. Almost every county hosted a fundraising event this summer and many of our counties applied for and won grants. Congratulations to everyone for your combined efforts – together we are stronger and offering even more athletes the chance to compete. The next opportunity to work together will be through Giving Day on October 27. Your support of this effort will provide a direct financial lift for individual counties while helping to increase awareness of our movement statewide.
The Young Athletes Program continued to grow during the quarter; we’re excited to roll-out new opportunities for YAP and MATP into 2016. To date we have engaged over 6,000 athletes through YAP and earlier this year we successfully integrated Strider Balance Bikes into YAP curriculum for programs that have been in place for more than 3 years. Continuing to challenge our athletes, programs across the state are piloting a YAP golf class, which will be highlighted at State Fall Classic on November 14, and an introductory YAP tennis class with the support of the USTA early next year. Like YAP, we continue to see MATP grow throughout the state with almost 600 athletes engaging in this program in 9 counties.
Our goal to grow Project UNIFY during the 2015-2016 school year was achieved early; we’re excited to have 86 schools from the high school, middle school, and elementary school ranks throughout the state participating in inclusionary sports and activities. This October we’re celebrating another Project UNIFY milestone, as it officially begins our partnership with FHSAA, and basketball season starts October 26. Through our partnership with FHSAA, Project UNIFY student athletes will now be recognized as Varsity athletes who can letter in sports during the 2015-16 school year and beyond. Schools are also working to promote campaigns in October for Disability Awareness Month by hosting unity walks, unity information stations, and R-Word pledge tables.
As always, our Athlete Leaders were proudly involved in all of these programs, sharing the impact of our mission with the community and showcasing their incredible leadership skills. We are thankful to all our mentors, trainers and athlete leaders for all they do to help amplify the reach of our movement.
In closing, I wanted to share a video that we created to celebrate and honor Publix as our long serving statewide champion and inaugural recipient of Special Olympics Florida’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver Award. Publix has supported our athletes since the beginning and continues to be a driving force that allows for the transformation in our movement.
Thank you for your continued support of our athletes and the spirit you give to our mission.
Sherry Wheelock, President/CEO