General Information

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What is Special Olympics?

Special Olympics is an international program of year-round sports training and athletic competition for more than one million children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

The Special Olympics Oath is… “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Our Philosophy … Special Olympics is founded on the belief that people with intellectual disabilities can, with proper instruction and encouragement, learn, enjoy and benefit from participation in individual and team sports, adapted as necessary to meet the needs of those with special mental and physical limitations.

Special Olympics believes that consistent training, with emphasis on physical conditioning, is essential to the development of sports skills, and that competition among those of equal abilities is the most appropriate means of testing these skills, measuring progress and providing incentives for personal growth.

Special Olympics believes that through sports training and competition, people with intellectual disabilities benefit physically, mentally, socially and spiritually; families are strengthened; and the community at large, both through participation and observation, is united with people with intellectual disabilities in an environment of equality, respect and acceptance.

Special Olympics believes that every person with an intellectual disability who is at least eight years old should have the opportunity to participate in and benefit from sports training and competition.

Our Leaders Are… Timothy Shriver, son of founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver is the Chair of Special Olympics Inc. Mary Davis is the CEO. Chief of Global Program Marc Edenzon also serves as the top executive for Special Olympics North America.

Our state is headed by Special Olympics Kentucky President and CEO Trish Mazzoni.

Our goal is … for all persons with intellectual disabilities to have the chance to become useful and productive citizens who are accepted and respected in their communities.

The Benefits … of participation in Special Olympics for people with intellectual disabilities include improved physical fitness and motor skills, greater self-confidence, a more positive self-image, friendships, and increased family support. Special Olympics athletes carry these benefits with them into their daily lives at home, in the classroom, on the job, and in the community. Families who participate become stronger as they learn a greater appreciation of their athlete’s talents. Community volunteers find out what good friends the athletes can be. And everyone learns more about the capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities.

Special Olympics believes that competition among those of equal abilities is the best way to test its athletes’ skills, measure their progress, and inspire them to grow. Special Olympics believes that its program of sports training and competition helps people with intellectual disabilities become physically fit and grow mentally, socially, and spiritually. Special Olympics believes that consistent training is required to develop sports skills.

The Spirit of Special Olympics is … skill, courage, sharing, and joy-transcends boundaries of geography, nationality, political philosophy, gender, age, race, or religion.

Special Olympics Began …in 1968 when Eunice Kennedy Shriver organized the First International Special Olympics Games at Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois, USA. The concept was born in the early 1960s when Mrs. Shriver started a day camp for people with intellectual disabilities. She saw that people with intellectual disabilities were far more capable in sports and physical activities than many experts thought. Since 1968, millions of children and adults with intellectual disabilities have participated in Special Olympics.

Around the World …Special Olympics is a Global Movement with more than 4.5 million athletes in more than 170 countries around the world. There are more than 200 Special Olympics Programs participating in 35 Olympics-type sports. More than 30,000 competitions are held around the world each year withe the help of more than 750,000 volunteers and 300,000 coaches..

In the United States …Special Olympics Chapters are established in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. About 25,000 communities in the United States have Special Olympics programs. Through the Unified Champion School programs, schools include Unified Special Olympics Sports, Youth Activation Committees and other activities to build more inclusive school communities. The Young Athletes Program serves children as young as two-years-old, helping them develop both social and motor skills and preparing them for Special Olympics competition when they reach eight years old.

To be Eligible to Participate … in Special Olympics, you must be at least eight years old and identified by an agency or professional as having one of the following conditions: intellectual disabilities, cognitive delays as measured by formal assessment, or significant learning or vocational problems due to cognitive delay that require or have required specially-designed instruction. (See Athlete Eligibility)

The Unified Sports® Program is … brings persons without intellectual disabilities together on the same team with persons with intellectual disabilities of comparable age and athletic ability. Founded in 1987, Unified Sports® fosters the integration of persons with intellectual disabilities into school and community sports programs.

Special Olympics Provides Year-Round Training … and competition in 35 official sports. Special Olympics has developed and tested training programs that are outlined in a Sports Skills Guide for each sport. More than 300,000 qualified coaches train Special Olympics athletes.

By Assigning Athletes to Divisions … commensurate with their ability, Special Olympics gives every athlete a reasonable chance to win. Athletes from all divisions may advance to Chapter, National, and World Games.

For Athletes With Severe Disabilities … Special Olympics Kentucky offers Developmental Events. This program has been developed for those athletes who, without these events may never be able to compete in Special Olympics. For exampled, in aquatics there is a 15M Flotation Race. In Track and Field there is a 10M Assisted Walk.

Special Olympics Competitions … are patterned after the Olympic Games. More than 30,000 Games, meets, and tournaments in both summer and winter sports are held worldwide each year. World Games for selected representatives of all programs are held worldwide each year. World Games for selected representatives of all programs are held every two years, alternating between summer and winter.

More than 1 Million Volunteers … organize and run local Special Olympics programs, serving as coaches, Games officials, drivers, and in many other capacities. Anyone can learn how to participate through the many training programs Special Olympics offers for coaches, officials, and volunteers.

Headquartered in Washington DC … Special Olympics International guides local, area, state, and national programs around the world. A volunteer board of directors determines international policies and is comprised of business and sport leaders, professional athletes, educators, and experts in intellectual disabilities from around the world.

Giving Cooperation and Support …to Special Olympics are the national governing bodies and/or international sports federations of each sport played in Special Olympics. Major sports organizations and a host of world leaders also support Special Olympics and its goals.

Special Olympics is the only organization authorized by the International Olympic Committee to use the word “Olympics” worldwide.

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