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50 Years, Countless Stories: Celebrating the Special Olympics

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics. This event is especially close to our hearts considering the impact it has had on the intellectually disabled. Over the past 50 years, we’ve watched Olympians overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams.

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As a center committed to providing numerous opportunities for adults with intellectual disabilities, we offer numerous programs to support this mission, including our Special Olympics clinics and training centers.

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History of the Special Olympics

The history of the Special Olympics is a fascinating one. What started as a backyard summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities has become one of the largest international athletic events today. 

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Special Olympics: Then

When Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the sister of President John F. Kennedy, first encountered the unfair treatment of adults and children with intellectual disabilities in the form of a lack of programs and facilities offering opportunities, she dedicated her life to raising funds and creating a legacy that to this day still impacts the intellectually disabled.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Special Olympics founders

(Photo Courtesy of the Special Olympics: www.specialolympics.org) From left: Frank Pauley, VP of the Iron Workers union and early Special Children's Charities board member; Richard Kirby, founding board member, Special Children’s Charities; man in back, name unknown; Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley; Anne Burke, co-founder,1968 Special Olympics Games; Stanley Harrison, founding board member, Special Children’s Charities; Jack McHugh, founder, Special Children’s Charities.

From being an instrumental part of the founding of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation that raises funds for educational programs and recreational activities for those with intellectual disabilities to organizing the first ever special olympics event, Eunice Kennedy Shriver was instrumental in helping to create a world where everyone has the opportunity to participate in athletic events.

In June of 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver and a team of advisors organized a summer camp for youth with intellectual disabilities at her very own home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. At this time, the idea that anyone with a physical or mental disability could participate and compete in team and individual sports was both innovative and revolutionary. Thanks to her dedication, the event was a huge success and led the way for future events of a larger scale.

In March of 1968, Kennedy and the Chicago Park District announced the first ever Special Olympic games for young people with intellectual disabilities would take place in July of 1968.

The First Special Olympic Games

The first Special Olympics Summer Games took place on July 20, 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago, where more than 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities gathered to showcase their athletic talent.

 1968 Special Olympics Games
(Photo Courtesy of the Special Olympics: www.specialolympics.org) About 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from the USA and Canada competed in the first Special Olympics International Summer Games in Chicago. The Opening Ceremony included a teen runner carrying a torch to light a 45-foot high "John F. Kennedy Flame of Hope." Over 200 events were offered, including broad jump, softball throw, 25-yard swim, 100-yard swim, high jump, 50-yard dash, water polo and floor hockey. The event was so successful that Eunice Kennedy Shriver soon pledged that more games would be held in 1970 and every two years thereafter in a "Biennial International Special Olympics."

Special Olympics: Now

Every 4 years, tens of thousands of athletes, coaches, volunteers, and support staff join together to create a unique sporting experience like no other, the Special Olympics Summer Games. Today, the Special Olympics offer events and programs around the globe, allowing tens of thousands of adults and youth with intellectual disabilities to achieve their athletic dreams.

Visitors can enjoy the event for free. Interested in joining the experience this year? Plan your visit and find a list of scheduled sporting events and programs below.

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Special Olympics
(Photo Courtesy of the Special Olympics: www.specialolympics.org) Cyclists competing in the 2014 International Special Olympic Games in Cairo, Egypt.

The opening ceremony for this year’s event takes place on July 1, 2018 at 12:30pm at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington with the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games taking place between July 1 and 6. Thousands of athletes from around the nation will compete in 14 different Olympic team and individual sporting events, including basketball, golf, gymnastics, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, and volleyball.

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Special Olympic Sports

The mission of the Special Olympics is to inspire and encourage through events that allow intellectually disabled adults and children to accomplish their goals and achieve their dreams. From basketball to badminton, thousands of adults gather each year to showcase their athletic talent and ability to overcome intellectual disadvantages. Special Olympic sports include:

  • Alpine Skiing
  • Badminton
  • Basketball
  • Bocce
  • Bowling
  • Cricket
  • Cross Country Skiing
  • Cycling
  • Equestrian
  • Figure Skating
  • Floorball
  • Floor Hockey
  • Football
  • Golf
  • Gymnastics
  • Handball
  • Judo
  • Kayaking
  • Netball
  • Powerlifting
  • Roller Skating
  • Sailing
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowshoeing
  • Softball
  • Speed Skating
  • Swimming
  • Table Tennis
  • Tennis
  • Triathlon
  • Volleyball

Special Olympics Sports at Baddour

The opportunity to train for and compete in the Special Olympics opens up a world of possibilities that would not be available for those with intellectual disabilities. At Baddour, we offer many intramural team sports programs and clinics for residents and support staff, including:

  • Basketball
  • Bocce
  • Bowling
  • Flag Football
  • Golf
  • Soccer
  • Softball
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball
  • Weightlifting

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In addition to providing the opportunity to meet personal health and fitness goals and increase heart rate and stamina, participating in Special Olympics events allows Baddour residents to engage in fun community activities that foster and strengthen relationships.

How to Support Special Olympic Athletes and Programs

Whether you’re an athlete seeking to participate in Special Olympics events or looking for volunteer opportunities that allow you to gain hands-on experience as a coach and mentor, there are a variety of ways to join and support competitors with intellectual disabilities.

Get Free Tickets to the Unified Cup

Want to score free tickets to sporting events? The first ever Special Olympics Unified Cup will take place in Chicago, where the very first Special Olympics event took place, on July 20, 2018. Free tickets to the event are still available. Viewers can also watch the event on ESPN.

Visit the Global Day of Inclusion Festival

On July 21, 2018, a Global Day of Inclusion Festival will take place at Soldier Field in Chicago. This free festival will include sporting events, games, exhibits, concessions, live music and entertainment, and more.

Help Commemorate Special Olympic Athletes

To commemorate 50 years of Special Olympics events, an Eternal Flame of Hope monument will be unveiled at Soldier Park in Chicago in July 2018. Donate today to contribute to programs that support athletes with intellectual disabilities. Donors who contribute more than $500 will have the opportunity to see their name engraved on the monument donor wall.  

Volunteer Your Time

Volunteers are always welcome to donate their time and energy to Special Olympic programs and events, like those at Baddour. To learn more about how to support our efforts, contact us today.

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Special Olympics Programs in Memphis

To see Special Olympic programs in action, schedule a tour of Baddour today. We are happy to provide tours to the public and various groups who are interested in seeing first-hand how our programs and amenities impact adults with intellectual disabilities.

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Special Olympics History

Posted by Brittany Rodgers at 9:00 AM