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Solutions in Sight: Social Justice

Special Olympics

Doing sport feels good! Most of us have enjoyed sports on one level or another. It feels really good to use your mind and muscles as part of an athletic team or a solo effort. And whether we win or not, there's something very cool about being part of "the game." For centuries, though, people with mental retardation, have been closed out of much of the "game of life," by other people who are not mentally retarded. Fortunately, for all of us, there is an organization called Special Olympics.

The Special Olympics is an international organization that believes people with mental retardation benefit physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually through sports training and competition.

How'd the Special Olympics get started? Back in the early 1960's, Eunice Kennedy Shriver (sister of President John Kennedy and mother of a mentally retarded daughter) started a day camp for people with mental retardation at her home in Rockville, Maryland. Eunice had a vision of an international sports organization for people with mental retardation that would bring joy and pride developed through sports competition to people that others believed could not learn or play sports. Special Olympics has grown into one of the largest and most successful sports and volunteer organizations in the world. (And everything they offer is at no cost to the athletes!)

Local, national, international. Today there are Special Olympics local chapters in all 50 United States and in more than 140 countries worldwide serving more than one million Special Olympics athletes. Within each local chapter, Special Olympics offers a year round sports training program and athletic competition in 22 Olympic-type sports for children, teens and adults with mental retardation. From the competition on the local level, Special Olympics athletes can move on to national competitions. More than 15,000 games, meets, and tournaments in both summer and winter sports are held worldwide each year. Just like Olympics athletes, Special Olympics athletes can also compete on an international level. Modeled after the Olympic Games, Special Olympics World Games are held every two years, alternating between summer and winter. (The next one will be in North Carolina in 1999.)

What's in the training? As any athlete learns sports skills and rules, builds muscles, and sharpens motor skills, he/she also develops social skills and builds self-confidence that help in all areas of life. For mentally retarded athletes, that self-confidence empowers them and makes it easier for them to interact with other people. When mentally retarded people are more visible and actively involved in their communities, stereotypes die and walls that divide people because of their differences start to crumble and fall.

Get involved! The backbone of Special Olympics is volunteers and there are more than 500,000 of them helping those Special Olympics athletes become all they can be! Teens can volunteer to work with the Special Olympics in lots of ways either for a single event or a bigger, longer term commitment. Teens can help with:

  • Public relations
  • Fund-raising
  • Coaching
  • Working at the games themselves as scorekeepers, food providers, trainers, etc.

    For more information about the Special Olympics
    and ways you can help, check out their web site at


"Let me win.
But if I cannot win,
let me be brave in the attempt."

--The Oath of Special Olympics.


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