Written by BRITTANY Ó RUACHÁINN, Suncoast News
As the Tokyo Olympic Games were heating up, the West Pasco Dolphins flag football team was bringing its own heat to the fields after being told they will get to represent Florida at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Orlando next year. The team is currently fundraising to help cover the costs of transportation, hotel, food and more. Community members like the Pasco Tax Collector and Heritage Springs Community have been generous in their donations, collecting a total $18,600.
Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano said the support of the community coming through the five offices has been truly amazing. His offices collected $6,600 in the month of April. Heritage Springs, which usually hosts a fundraising event for the Dolphins, wasn’t able to do so last year because of COVID. Instead, a newsletter went out asking for donations and residents stepped up to help. The community was able to raise $12,000. “It’s a wonderful program,” Fasano said of the Special Olympics. “We set aside two to three months to raise money for the Special Olympics team.”
The Dolphins team is made up of athletes in their 20’s up to a 48-year-old member. County Director Joeyn Dearsman said this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and watching the team’s reaction to being invited to the Games brought tears to everyone’s eyes.
“We were very lucky to be selected,” Dearsman said. “They were told in June and it was really cool, people from the Bucs front office did a Zoom call with Sherry Wheelock, the CEO of Special Olympics Florida, and Ken Roop, who is our regional director.” The team was brought in for a meeting to discuss getting back into practice, so it was a surprise when the Zoom call brought in big names and an even bigger announcement.
The Dolphins will get to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp next week, and will get to attend the September 19 game between the Bucs and the Atlanta Falcons.
Dearsman said the athletes will return to practice in August and are looking forward to their participation in the Special Olympics USA Games next year. Other Pasco teams going to the Special Olympics include a soccer team, The Lakers, and individual athletes Ian Myers (equestrian), Jacob Edwards (athletics), and Andrew Ahearn and Kairee Whitemore (both for triathlon).