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History of Special Olympics

In June 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a day camp, known as Camp Shriver, for children with intellectual disabilities at her home in Potomac, Maryland.[10] She started this camp because she was concerned about disabled children with nowhere to play. Using Camp Shriver as an example, Shriver promoted the concept of involvement in physical activity and competition opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. Camp Shriver became an annual event, and the Kennedy Foundation (of which Shriver was executive vice president) gave grants to universities, recreation departments and community centers to hold similar camps.

The first International Special Olympics Summer Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1968. Anne McGlone Burke, a physical education teacher with the Chicago Park District, began with the idea for a one-time Olympic-style athletic competition for people with special needs. Burke then approached Eunice Kennedy Shriver, head of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation, to fund the event. Shriver encouraged Burke to expand on the idea and the JPK Foundation provided a grant of $25,000. More than 1,000 athletes from across the United States and Canada participated. At the July 1968 games, Shriver announced the formation of Special Olympics.

Founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics movement has grown to include nearly 3.7 million athletes in 229 accredited programs in 170 countries.

The Canadian Connection

In the early 1960s, a group of students at Beverley School, an inner-city school in Toronto, Ontario, became the test group for Dr. Frank Hayden, a sport scientist at the University of Toronto. Dr. Hayden was studying the effects of regular exercise on the fitness levels of children with an intellectual disability.

Dr. Hayden’s research was nothing short of groundbreaking. It challenged the prevailing mindset of the day – one that claimed that it was the disability itself that prevented them from fully participating in play and recreation. Through rigorous scientific method, Dr. Hayden proved that it was simply the lack of opportunity to participate that caused their fitness levels to suffer. Given the opportunity, people with an intellectual disability could acquire the necessary skills to participate in sport, and become physically fit. Sport could have a transformative effect on the lives of those with an intellectual disability.

His research and his proposal for a national sport competition would catch the attention of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, serving as inspiration for the inaugural competition in 1968 in Chicago, Illinois, on Soldier Field. Toronto’s Beverley School was also involved that day: Canada was represented by a group of 12 of its students, as well as Maple Leaf’s captain, George Armstrong, who was there as the team’s honourary captain, and Harold Smith, the young teacher who coached the floor hockey team at Beverley School.

On June 9, 1969, in Toronto, Ontario, the very first Special Olympics national competition was held, less than one year after the sport movement was born on Chicago’s Soldier Field. It attracted 1,400 individuals with an intellectual disability from towns and cities across our country.

Competing in athletics, aquatics, and – no surprise here – floor hockey, they joined Harry “Red” Foster, the visionary who worked tirelessly to bring the sport movement to this country. The Canadian broadcast legend, advertising executive and philanthropist was inspired by what he had seen in Chicago, Illinois, one year earlier.


The Special Olympics logo has gone through several changes in its lifetime.
The "stick figure" is an abstract but humanistic form designed to convey the impression of movement and activity.  Our logo is a symbol of growth, confidence and joy among children and adults with disabilities who are learning coordination, mastering skills, participating in competitions and preparing themselves for richer, more productive lives.  Its spherical appearance is a representation of Special Olympics' global outreach.


June 1962:  Eunice Kennedy Shriver starts a summer day camp for children and adults with learning difficulties.

July 1968:  The first Special Olympics is held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.

December 1971:  Special Olympics approved by the US Olympics Committee.

February 1977:  The first International Special Olympics Winter Games is held in Colorado.

September 1986:  The United Nations in New York launches the International Year of Special Olympics.

February 1988:  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially endorses and recognizes the Special Olympics, authorizing the games to use the word 'Olympics' in its title.

March 1993:  The 5th Special Olympics World Winter Games are hosted in Austria, the first World Winter Games held outside the US.

June 2003:  Ireland hosts the first Special Olympics World Summer Games to be held outside the US, in which 5,500 athletes participate

October 2007:  Over 7,500 athletes from 164 different countries gather in Shanghai, China, for the 12th Special Olympics World Summer Games, which are broadcast internationally on an unprecedented scale.

July 2008:  The Special Olympics celebrates its 40th anniversary with almost 3 million athletes in more than 180 countries around the world.

The Present

Special Olympics Ontario is a volunteer driven organization with some 14000 athletes and 6000 volunteers registered across the province. Athletes range in age from eight to eighty and have the opportunity to train in sixteen official sports and numerous demonstration sports.

The Goal

The primary objective of Special Olympics Ontario is to contribute to the physical, social and psychological development of people with intellectual disabilities through positive, successful experiences in sport.

The focus of the Special Olympics movement is to promote sport programming for such individuals in their community. However, in keeping with the philosophy of sport training, the organization also promotes competition at higher levels. This is accomplished with the staging of Provincial Games (held every two years) and National and International Games (held every four years).

Furthermore, the organization does not seek to restrict athletes to competition with other Special Olympians and in fact, promotes integration of its athletes into community based generic sports programs whenever possible.