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Best things to do in Tampa Bay: Warrior Games, SummerFest, Summer Plant Festival

Comedian and actor Jon Stewart, shown here at the Department of Defense Warrior Games in 2018, will resume his emcee duties when the Warrior Games come to Tampa on Friday. [Master Sgt. Stephen D. Schester]
Published Jun. 19

VET SWEAT: Warrior Games

This is only the second time the Warrior Games have been held outside of a military base, and the first time in Tampa, so the city is pulling out all the stops to cheer on the athletes competing over 10 days in a Paralympics-style competition.

Comedian Jon Stewart will emcee the opening ceremonies on Saturday, with country star Hunter Hayes performing. Stewart will also host the closing ceremonies on June 30, with headliner Sara Evans. Both events are at Amalie Arena ($15 through Ticketmaster).

All the athletic events, however, are free. More than 300 athletes are in Tampa to compete in 14 sports, including archery, cycling, shooting, volleyball, track and field and, for the first time in Warrior Games history, rugby, tennis and golf. There are five teams representing each armed service branch and five international teams (Canada, UK, Australia, Netherlands and Denmark).

Don't be surprised to see the former Daily Show host cheering at a basketball or volleyball game.

"The level of competition is extraordinary to watch," Stewart told the Tampa Bay Times. "You've got Marines versus Navy. You've got Air Force teams from Australia, Denmark, England. ... You will be surprised by how competitive it is, but it's also the camaraderie, the tenaciousness and resilience of the athletes, the incredible pride."

Don't miss the cycling trial Sunday from 8 a.m. to noon on Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa between Rubideaux Street and Hyde Park. Paratoopers will float down to the ground to get things started. The Tampa Convention Center will be a good spot to see many sports at once, including archery, indoor rowing, wheelchair basketball and power lifting. Find a schedule at dodwarriorgames.com.

MORE: Jon Stewart on Tampa's Warrior Games, Gasparilla and whether he'd ever do TV again

HOT PARTY: Zephyrhills SummerFest

Zephyrhills has a hot time in the city for SummerFest on Saturday. It includes a morning market (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) and festival in Zephyr Park (4-9 p.m.) with a dance competition, watermelon-eating competition, food vendors, bounce houses, face painters, balloon art and a 30-minute fireworks finale at 9 p.m. This is a dog-friendly event. Free. 38116 Fifth Ave., Zephyrhills.

GREEN THUMB: Summer Plant Festival

As many transplanted Northerners learn, the rules of gardening are different here. At this weekend's Summer Plant Festival at the University of South Florida's Botanical Gardens, learn from growers on how to create a tropical paradise in your yard. Shop for tropical plants, fruit trees, butterfly plants and cacti. There will also be an orchid talk, butterfly talk and information on beekeeping. $5, 11 and younger free. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday at 12210 USF Pine Drive, Tampa. (813) 974-2329. gardens.usf.edu.

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