The Unified basketball team started 3-0 in Orlando this week.
Plant City’s Unified Special Olympics basketball team took to Orlando on Friday for the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games, opening the event with three wins over Oregon, Washington and Utah earlier this week.
The team is comprised of both Plant City High School’s Special Olympics athletes and general education Unified partners, led by coaches Lisa Goad, Jacob Goad and Maverick Lawrence.
“It’s exciting,” Lisa Goad said. “You see the kids and they’re so excited, just so proud to be here.”
This year’s USA Games unites more than 5,500 athletes and coaches from all 50 states and the Caribbean — along with 125,000 spectators — as they come together to celebrate dedication and perseverance both on and off the field. In addition to the competition, the team had the opportunity to participate in last weekend’s opening ceremonies and meet with some of the high-profile athletes and celebrities in attendance, including Tim Tebow and the Harlem Globetrotters.
“It’s really amazing,” athlete Parker Hancock said. “I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life and I’m thankful for the coaches who have taught me to play basketball, that’s why I’m here today… It’s really cool to me, all of the different states, different personalities, different teams and seeing how they play.”
Their selection to represent Team Florida comes off of an impressive stretch for the group, finishing third at the 2018 USA Games in Seattle before becoming the first team in Plant City High School’s 106-year history to win multiple state championships as they clinched consecutive state titles in 2020 and 2021.
Following the opening ceremonies on Sunday, Florida pulled away with a 56-41 victory over Oregon on Monday morning, then narrowly escaped with a 51-49 win over Washington on Tuesday.
“It’s all showing that hard work pays off,” Lawrence said after the wins. “Be consistent, keep doing what we’re doing. Even though we’re playing different teams from different states, we still play how we play. The competition’s a little different, the styles are slightly different but overall we have to just keep doing our thing. Our first game was much better, our defense was better. I think we got this win today because we scouted out the team before so we knew their habits. Keep playing aggressive, keep playing our ball, keep working together and that’ll get us through.”
They returned on Wednesday morning to face Utah, coming away with yet another win in their final game of pool play to move to 3-0 on the week. Based on their results, teams will now be broken into separate divisions as they work their way through the medal round, all battling for a chance to bring home the gold medal.
“The first two or three days we didn’t even play a game and I had a blast,” partner Taylor Teeden said. “The opening ceremonies were insane and then to come out and get two wins off the bat it just feels amazing. It feels like our hard work has paid off. We won states twice and then they picked us to be here, so seeing all of these other states represented here and knowing that those teams went through the same things that we did, it just feels good, like our hard work has paid off.”