First Hope students compete at Florida Special Olympics

Evan Turner Grimes and Guillermo Alessandro Liriano participated in the Special Olympics Florida State Summer games Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20.

The First Hope Coach Matt Buchanan was alongside his athletes every step of the way.
The First Hope Coach Matt Buchanan was alongside his athletes every step of the way.
Photo by Andrea Mujica
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For the first time, two students from The First Hope of The First Academy participated in the Special Olympics Florida State Summer Games Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, 

For eighth-grader Evan Turner Grimes, 15, Special Olympics has introduced him to the world of sports — specifically basketball and soccer. 

Evan Turner Grimes, 15, celebrated after completing the last drill of his individual skills assessment.
Photo by Andrea Mujica

“I like to kick the ball, and I get to run and jump and learn new skills,” he said. “(My favorite part) has been getting to play with some of my friends and getting a ribbon when I win. I like to practice with coach (Matt Buchanan).” 

Evan’s mother, Tiffany Grimes, has seen her son believe more in himself since the family got him involved in Special Olympics. 

“I definitely see that it has built confidence in him,” she said. “He has two older siblings who both play — or did play — sports when they were in high school. And so for him to get to do it, I can see the pride on his face when he does it, because he always just watched his siblings do it. So, it’s been great to see him have a little bit of independence and confidence and pride, and that’s fantastic.” 

For fourth-grader Guillermo Alessandro Liriano, 10, being a part of the Special Olympics has helped him focus his energy into the sport he loves to play. 

Guillermo Alessandro Liriano, 10, gave his all during his individual skills assessment.
Photo by Andrea Mujica

“He’s pretty excited about the soccer part of the Special Olympics; he really likes it,” his mother, Siri Haidee, said. “Definitely soccer — it’s really good to help him focus and get all this energy down, because … he cannot stay in one place. But, I think that this will help him in the long run to see that he really likes to play soccer, so we can take this and put out a bit more effort into it.” 

The First Hope physical education teacher Matt Buchanan loves working with his athletes.

“Just seeing the students there, the athletes,” he said. “They have a great attitude, a great outlook on life and one really can learn a lot from them. … I could be having the hardest day, and there is never a day I don’t look forward to go into work, because I can just know I’m going to leave feeling happy and having laughs the whole day. You feel like you help somebody but then you get helped too. It’s definitely a blessing.” 

To participate in the Special Olympics this year, Evan and Guillermo participated in the individual skills events, where they were tested on speed and accuracy when kicking a soccer ball. Both were ecstatic when their turn to compete came. 

“They are some of the most energetic, fun-loving, hard-working athletes that I’ve ever met,” Buchanan said. “They really love life and love people, and they’re so proud of the effort they’ve put in.” 

In addition to developing athletic skills, Special Olympics has provided Evan and Guillermo social skills and a safe place to be.

“It’s getting out of his comfortable little bubble that he would prefer to stay in,” Grimes said. “So, we love that opportunity and just learning new skills. Any time he can learn a new skill, that’s always a positive for us. … It’s amazing being a part of the Special Olympics community … (and finding) a place (for him to) get involved, play and grow.” 



Andrea Mujica

Staff writer Andrea Mujica covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. When she’s not on the sidelines, you can find Andrea coaching rowers at the Orlando Area Rowing Society in Windermere.

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