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The story of Special Olympics begins over a half century ago, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver witnessed how unfairly society treated people with intellectual disabilities. Noticing how children with intellectual disabilities didn’t have a place to play, Shriver took action. She held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities – and not dwell on what they could not do.
Throughout the 1960s, Eunice Kennedy Shriver continued her pioneering work — both as the driving force behind President John F. Kennedy’s White House panel on people with intellectual disabilities and as the director of the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation. Her vision and drive for justice eventually grew into the Special Olympics movement.
In July 1968 the 1st International Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago. 1,000 people with intellectual disabilities from 26 U.S. states and Canada competed in track and field and swimming. Just a few years later the U.S. Olympic Committee granted Special Olympics official authorization to use the name “Olympics” in the United States.
By the late 70s, the Special Olympics World Winter Games in Colorado was broadcasted by CBS, ABC and NBC. By the time the 5th Winter Games came around in 1993, the games had moved to an international stage in Austria.
Today, Special Olympics provides athletic competition for more than 4 million athletes, with 1 million volunteers worldwide across 229 Accredited Special Olympics Programs in over 170 countries. Special Olympics offers 32 Olympic-type sports, and more than 50,000 competitions per year.
April 26, 2015: Special Olympics Philadelphia hosted our very first YOUNG ATHLETES™ Session! This program included an 8-week session focusing on motor skills, flexibility, coordination, and strength. The first Young Athletes Program took place at the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA in Northeast Philadelphia. As with any Special Olympics programs, it was completely free for all participants. Our first session was so popular that there was even a wait list!
December 4, 2015: Special Olympics PA, Philadlephia makes a splash in Philadelphia as we host our first ever Philadelphia Polar Plunge. The Philadlephia Polar Plunge becomes Special Olympics PA’s ninth plunge offered in the state during Plunge Season (November – February). In the first year, the Philadelphia Polar Plunge had 300+ plungers and raised over $65,000!
December 10, 2015: Special Olympics Philadelphia holds the first indoor bocce friendly competition for our Elementary and Middle Schools participating in our Interscholastic Unified Sports (IUS) program. We had over 100 Unified athletes and partners gather at Pennrose Elementary School. Schools in attendance include Pennrose, Austin Meehan, and Universal Daroff Charter School.
February 2016: Special Olympics Philadelphia launches a new program site in South Philadelphia. The South Philadelphia program started with Basketball and six athletes. Throughout the course of the year, the South Philadelphia program expanded into soccer and volleyball and had over 25 active athletes training and competing.
April 2017: Special Olympics PA, Philadelphia expands the Interscholastic Unified Sports Program with the addition of Athletics. In April, Special Olympics PA, Philadelphia held two scrimmages and a Championship at South Supersite where George Washington High School, Hill Freedman World Academy, Martin Luther King High School and South Philadelphia High School attended. The Championship took place a tthe South Philadelphia Super Site.