Friday, March 23, 2018
News Roundup

Surfers for Autism helps children hit the waves on Treasure Island


Amick Olson crumpled onto the 10-foot orange paddle board and pressed his hands to his the ears. His flower-print swimming trunks were soaked in saltwater. His blond hair was tousled. His face was scrunched into a ball of frustration.

Amick is 6 years old and autistic. He covers his ears when he's overwhelmed, and at that moment, he was a bit overwhelmed. But not in a bad way.

His father, Lars, floated in the warm water next to him. Amick wobbled to his feet. One hand clutched his dad. The other stayed on his ear.

"It's all you, Amick," Lars told him.

Then, for just a moment, Amick let go. He stood on the board by himself. He flashed a crooked smile. He was surfing.

Father and son high-fived.

Profound moments like Amick's filled a 100-yard stretch of water off Treasure Island beach on Saturday morning.

The organization Surfers for Autism, which was founded in 2007, holds dozens of events like this every year in Florida and beyond. Local surfers in each community volunteer to teach as many as 200 autistic children how to surf. Registrants pay no fees, and area businesses donate food and drinks.

About 2,500 people attended Saturday's festivities, the second annual event in Tampa Bay.

The air was warm, the sky was blue, and the Gulf of Mexico was cooperative. For hours, children as young as 4 floated on dozens of brightly colored boards spread across the water like lily pads. Parents cheered and snapped photos from the beach.

At these events, the parents say, their kids can be themselves. They can scream and run and, sometimes, break down. No one stares. No one judges. No one wonders why that one child just won't stay quiet.

Amick's parents, both originally from Florida, drove 18 hours from Toledo, Ohio, to attend. They helped five other families come as well.

"So many times, our kids are the strange ones," said Amick's mom, Brooke. "Here, nobody is strange."

A few feet from her son's first solo, Tom "T-Flats" Flaherty pushed a lime green board toward the beach. William Brady, 17, lay sprawled across the top.

"Paddle, paddle, paddle," Flaherty yelled. "Up, up, up."

William popped to his feet, bent his knees and extended his hands out on each side.

He knew what a good surfer was supposed to look like.

William attends Steinbrenner High School in Lutz. He's aware of his disability. He doesn't like big crowds, but he knows it's important to try new things. He can't play team sports but surfing, he thought, might be something he could do.

"He really wants to fit in," said his mother, Wendy Brady, watching from the beach. "This is a step for him."

Later, at the other end of the beach, Alex, Emma and Nicolas Duncan of Miramar climbed onto the same orange board. They are triplets, age 7 and soon to enter third grade. They all have the same brown hair and same dark eyes and same button noses. The kids look alike, but one of them is different.

Nicolas has autism.

Diane and Don Duncan had taken their kids to four Surfers events before the one on Treasure Island, but Nicolas had never stood on a board. He would only sit.

Until Saturday.

Emma balanced on his left, Alex on his right. In the middle, Nicolas held his siblings' hands.

The triplets, and their smiles, looked the same.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.

Softball: Mitchell turns things around

Softball: Mitchell turns things around

CLEARWATER — The offense was opportunistic Friday, but that has been the case a lot lately.Mitchell scored key runs late and got contributions from everyone. Add pitching that was effective and you have a 4-3 victory in 10 innings over Chamberl...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
USF’s McClanahan finally allows an earned run…and then some

USF’s McClanahan finally allows an earned run…and then some

TAMPA — One of the most improbable streaks in USF baseball history was snapped Friday evening.Or more specifically, crushed.Bulls left-handed ace Shane McClanahan, who hadn't allowed an earned run in 31 2/3 innings this season, got a rude retur...
Updated: 1 hour ago
20 years of the Rays’ brushes with ‘celebrity’

20 years of the Rays’ brushes with ‘celebrity’

ST. PETERSBURG — Some Rays, and their spouses, have been known for more than baseball. Some celebrities have shown up to watch the Rays play. Here are 20 of those connections:• The Rays were featured prominently in the 2002 Disney movie T...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Rowdies hope to match last season’s home dominance

ST. PETERSBURG — It will be hard to expect the Rowdies to top their home performance from last season, but that's exactly what captain Joe Cole has in mind."We lost one game here last year. And we want to improve on that," Cole said Friday. "No...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Former Derby Lane kennel owner Jan Alderson passes away

ST. PETERSBURG — On Jan Alderson's 60th birthday, she received an unexpected surprise.Her telephone rang with the news that Fiesta Mercury had just scored his most impressive career victory at Derby Lane — a 15-length romp in a Grade A sp...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Land O’Lakes pitches, hits way to Farm Bureau Classic championship

BROOKSVILLE — The game plan for Land O'Lakes is pretty simple. The Gators rely on their pitching and defense, and hope they can score enough runs to win.That strategy worked during the Farm Bureau Classic this week, especially in the final agai...
Updated: 2 hours ago
‘Death’ for cop-killer is a mistake. He gets life in prison.

‘Death’ for cop-killer is a mistake. He gets life in prison.

LARGO — The man who shot and killed Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek in 2014 will spend the rest of his life in prison.That was the sentence 12 jurors chose for Marco Antonio Parilla, Jr. on Friday after two weeks of testimony and four ho...
Updated: 2 hours ago

High school scoreboard for March 23

Friday’s scoreboardSoftballSpringstead 2, Crystal River 1
Updated: 2 hours ago
Largo officer shoots, kills motorist who drove at him, police say

Largo officer shoots, kills motorist who drove at him, police say

LARGO — One man was dead and an officer was left injured on Friday night in what police officials called a "violent, explosive situation."The episode started just before 6 p.m. Largo police Officer Matthew Steiner pulled over a black Nissan sedan at ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Jon Cooper and John Tortorella: A tale of Lightning contrasts

Jon Cooper and John Tortorella: A tale of Lightning contrasts

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he has met John Tortorella only a few times.But Cooper has learned plenty about Tortorella from players on the latter's 2004 Stanley Cup-winning Lightning team, including Vinny Lecavalier and  Marty St. Louis.So w...
Updated: 3 hours ago