Mary Frances Smith was named Florida Special Olympics Athlete of the Year because of her dedication to the program and her teammates.

Mary Frances Smith, a Brandon resident, has been an active and devoted member of the Florida Special Olympics since she was 9 years old. Now, 24 years later, she continues to serve the organization and won the Florida Special Olympics Athlete of the Year award for her efforts.

“The way she goes about the competition and the playing and the interacting with other athletes [has impressed me most]. She encourages everyone to do their best, which is essentially what Special Olympics stands for,” said mother Audrey Smith.

Smith, who has Down syndrome, joined the Special Olympics and began participating in track and field. Smith has also played tennis, bowling and swimming with the Special Olympics and played soccer with the TOPS Soccer League. Now, Smith is a part of the University of Tampa’s Unified Flag Football team. She is also trained and certified in the Athletic Leadership Program and is a health messenger.

“Mary Frances is a motivator and an excellent example to other [intellectually disabled] individuals about the possibilities one can accomplish. Special Olympics has given Mary Frances the opportunities to excel and the confidence to accomplish so much. She is an inspiration to everyone she meets,” said Judith Moore on her nomination form for the Athlete of the Year award.

Outside of her involvement with the Special Olympics, Smith is active in her community, serving in TRIDENT and the Nativity Catholic Church PB&J Ministry. One of Smith’s defining qualities is her leadership skills, encouraging TRIDENT classmates to join the PB&J Ministry and supporting her teammates on the Special Olympics team.

Smith is learning American Sign Language to communicate with her nonverbal teammates so they feel included and supported in their own accomplishments through the Special Olympics. She has worked to include all her teammates and coworkers and support them in their accomplishments as well.

“You have given me a place where I feel included and respected and I can’t tell you how important that is to me and all my fellow athletes,” said Smith at the Orlando award gala on October 22.

For more information on the Florida Special Olympics, visit its website at

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Lily Belcher
Lily Belcher is a writer for the Osprey Observer. She started as an intern in the summer of 2020 and has continued to write for the Osprey Observer since completing her internship. Lily is majoring in mass communications at the University of South Florida and is a staff writer for the university’s paper, The Oracle. She enjoys writing about local nonprofit organizations and community role models who have made an impact on her hometown.