Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tournament gives kids with disabilities a chance to play team sport

“Everybody's got their spot," said 15-year-old Michael Royal, describing how he and his teammates at Dorothy Thomas Exceptional Center became a powerhouse. Michael found his on the left side of the basketball court near the net. He can shoot baskets from there best because he's left-handed, he guesses. Michael scored 10 baskets last week at the 20th annual Leonard Shearer March Madness Basketball Tournament. His team won both games they played, taking home two trophies.

The event pits students from six schools throughout the county who would not typically get a chance to play team sports. They have conditions such as anxiety and bipolar disorder, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

"Many of them have lived through significant abuse," said Clara Reynolds, director at Success 4 Kids & Families, which partnered with the University of Tampa to put on the games.

"We celebrate the coping skills these kids have and help them build more," she said.

About 120 students played ball and cheered each other from the UT bleachers.

Students at Michael's school get to train puppies to be service dogs and brought two along to the games.

Team sports work as an incentive, Reynolds said. Often children with emotional and behavioral disabilities have a hard time in school. They want to fit in. They want camaraderie.

Two years ago, Michael was at Webb Middle School.

"I got in a lot of fights," he said. "I had a hard time following rules."

That's how he ended up at Dorothy Thomas.

Michael has attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder and sometimes has to work to control his anger. He is also diabetic.

One of five children, he lives in Carrollwood with his parents. Like his father, his favorite basketball team is the Miami Heat.

At school these days, he knows exactly what he needs to do to keep playing ball. Stay focused.

The day before the tournament, for extra practice, Michael's team took on teachers at the school for a friendly game.

"They all got mouths," he said of the teachers, before the game. "They say we can't beat them."

A reading teacher was the one that worried him. Michael had seen him move on the court and he was pretty fast.

Michael likes reading. Last year, his class read aloud the book Holes. The story told of a boy wrongly accused of stealing who was sent to a detention facility where he was forced to dig holes in the ground to build character.

His own school isn't nearly as hard. The teachers are pretty nice, Michael said.

Later, the game against the teachers ended in a tie.

Next year, Michael hopes to go to Alonso High School.

Michael sees the game of basketball as a microcosm of life. He knows the game and life take teamwork and every member working at his best.

"I think it's a good thing in life to find your spot," he said.

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at or (813) 226-3431.

Tournament gives kids with disabilities a chance to play team sport 03/14/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 2:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays make Hechavarria trade official


    Here is the release from the team ...


  2. Jones: Will Tampa Bay hit a Hall of Fame dry spell now?

    Lightning Strikes

    Marty St. Louis may lack the Hall of Fame stats, but two scoring titles, an MVP award and clutch goals should count for a lot. (Dirk Shadd, Times)
  3. SeaWorld shares drop Monday to 2017 low after disclosure of federal subpoena


    The Orlando parent company of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens theme parks saw its stock drop 3.5 percent Monday to $15.10, its lowest price of this year.

    Killer whales perform at Shamu Stadium at SeaWorld in Orlando in 2011, before public pressure was placed on the theme park company to curtail its orca shows.SeaWorld has since announced an end to the traditional killer whale entertainment  at its theme parks. [AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack]
  4. Update: Scientology cancels planned mock FBI raid on downtown building

    Special Topics

    CLEARWATER — The Church of Scientology planned to film a mock FBI raid on a downtown building Monday afternoon, but the actors and cameras never showed up to the location disclosed to the city.

    According to Clearwater Police, the Church of Scientology plans to hold a mock FBI raid at 3 p.m. Monday at this vacant building at 305 N Fort Harrison Ave. Police announced the raid in advance to alert the public. They said they did not know the reason for the event. [Google Earch image]
  5. Support for gay marriage surges, even among groups once wary

    Human Interest

    NEW YORK — In the two years since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, support for it has surged even among groups that recently were broadly opposed, according to a new national survey.

    People gather in Washington's Lafayette Park to see the White House lit up in rainbow colors on June 26, 2015, the day the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage legal. In the two years since same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, support for it has surged even among groups that recently were broadly opposed, according to a new national survey released on Monday, June 26, 2017. [Associated Press]