Photo story: Tampa Bay Bucs welcome Special Olympics athletes to training camp

Mary Frances Smith wears her emotions on her sleeve and, more specifically, on her face sharing her mega-watt smile with every single person she meets.

As the reigning Florida Special Olympics Athlete of the Year, the prolific tennis player joined 75 Special Olympic athletes as guests of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during training camp at the team's AdventHealth Training Center. The contingent of Special Olympics athletes were among the community members the Bucs welcomed to camp during their annual Community Impact Day. 

​As fervent supporters of Special Olympics and numerous non-profits, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, the Bucs held a special post-practice indoor clinic where Special Olympics Florida athletes ran a variety of drills and got autographs and photos with Bucs’ CEO Brian Ford and team players.As part of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' annual Community Impact Day, the team and players like linebacker Joe Tryon-Shoyinka welcomed Special Olympics Florida athletes and guests from various nonprofit groups to training cam​p.

Mary Frances Smith’s mother, Audrey Smith, watched with "mom pride” as her daughter repeatedly embraced Ford.

"Look around," Audrey Smith says. "Right now, every athlete here feels like the most special person in the world."

And they are.

With 60,000 athletes and 36,742 volunteers participating in 236 events, Special Olympics Florida provides year-round sports training and competition in a variety of Olympic-style sports for people with intellectual disabilities.

Special Olympics Florida President and CEO Sherry Wheelock joined the athletes at the training camp encouraging each participant and posing for photos.

“This is such a wonderful event for our athletes as they love having the opportunity to meet and spend some time training with the Bucs," Wheelock says "The entire organization is incredibly supportive of our athletes and the Special Olympics movement.

In addition to inviting Special Olympics Florida athletes to training camp, the Bucs host the organization’s annual Sunshine Bowl fundraiser and volunteer year-round with the organization.

Each Special Olympics Florida athlete participating in the training camp event received tickets to the Bucs' August 12th preseason home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

William Corsi, Florida’s Special Olympics Florida Athlete of the Year in 2007, has been a Bucs' fan since 2000 and counts wide receiver Mike Evans and former fullback Mike Alstott among his favorite players.

As a seasoned athlete himself, Corsi, 40, is prolific in swimming, softball, volleyball and bowling. He participated in the 2015 Special Olympics USA Games in Los Angeles and the 2022 USA Games in Orlando.

"My favorite thing about the training camp is interacting with the players," Corsi says. "It's like we're all on the same team."

For more information, go to Special Olympics Florida 
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Read more articles by Kimberly DeFalco.