Orlando Magic Youth Basketball Academy and Head Coach Steve Clifford Host Special Needs Basketball Clinic Presented by UnitedHealthcare

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO – Fifteen years before he landed his first NBA job, Steve Clifford was a special education teacher at Woodland High School in Maine. For the couple years he was there, he was also the head boys varsity basketball coach, which was his foot in the door to coaching. Since then, the native of Island Falls, located in Maine’s Aroostook County, has been on an incredible coaching journey, which has included stops at several colleges and several NBA organizations.

Teaching special needs youth brought Clifford, now the Orlando Magic’s head coach, tremendous fulfillment. He still remembers the children that were in his classes. Being able to inspire and encourage them motivated him every day.

“My plan was to teach and be a high school coach,” said Clifford, who remembers being a sophomore in high school and his father, who was also his school’s basketball coach, recommending him pursue a career in special education. “I loved being a teacher. It’s a very rewarding field.”

Although many years have passed since those days, helping disadvantaged children is still dear to his heart. When he learned of an opportunity to invite a group of kids and young adults with neurological and functional disorders from the Bounce out the Stigma program to Amway Center for an exclusive hoops clinic, Clifford was beyond excited to welcome them.

That’s precisely what the longtime coach was up to following his team’s practice on Thursday, as he joined forces with the Orlando Magic Youth Basketball Academy (OMYBA) in hosting the clinic, which was presented by UnitedHealthcare.

“It’s the best,” he said. “Even when I was a college coach wherever I lived, I always tried to do Special Olympics. If you’ve never done it, to be honest, even if you go and you are just a timer to just see it, it’s one of the greatest days you’ll ever have. It’s people who have put in a lot of practice, a lot of work and it just makes you feel good.”

The mission of Bounce Out the Stigma is to empower challenged youth to believe they can while erasing the stigma from those who believe they can’t. The program instills confidence in special needs children and young adults while helping them improve their motor skills.

With instruction from the NBA coach, each participant worked on their basketball skills and then took home a clinic T-shirt and basketball.

When he was growing up, attending basketball clinics was a big part of Clifford’s life. They taught him about the importance of teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership and health and wellness, all focus areas of the OMYBA. Ever since he started coaching, the now 58-year-old has spread those same messages to youth. With Thursday’s clinic being one of several he’s hosted since becoming the Magic’s head coach, many children from Central Florida have benefitted from his advice and basketball tutelage.

Many NBA players say the lessons they learned at hoops clinics during their own youth helped pave the way for their successes on the court. That certainly was the case for Magic point guard Markelle Fultz, who attended many of them while growing up outside of Washington, D.C.

“It’s all about the mindset you have going into it,” he said. “You definitely can learn a lot. The things I learned from basketball clinics was the basics. A lot of people think you have to do all this spectacular stuff and it’s really learning the basics and mastering that. That’s when you can add combinations of basic moves and stuff like that to get better.”

The OMYBA will be hosting a Jr. Magic coaches clinic on Saturday, Jan. 25 at the Orlando Magic gym at Goldenrod Recreation Center, which is free and open to the public for registration. The clinic will feature Assistant Coach Pat Delany and will include special giveaways, the opportunity to learn about practice programs and game plans and a free ticket to a Magic home game. To register for the free clinic, please visit https://www.nba.com/magic/youth/special-programs.

All Orlando Magic youth camps and clinics are sponsored by UnitedHealthcare. The Magic and UnitedHealthcare, both committed to the community and teaching life skills to youth through the game of basketball, provide 50 kids with full scholarships to attend Orlando Magic Basketball Camps in the summer.

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