Special Olympics Family and History
Camping The members of a family encourage, understand, and love one another, much like our organization. Volunteering time to Special Olympics is more than being a hard worker, it is being a brother or sister. Treating the participants as family allows them to gain confidence not only from competition, but also from meeting new friends.
Special Olympics sprang from the simple philosophy that all people benefit from participation in sports. In the early 1960's Eunice Kennedy Shriver held a daycamp for people with mental retardation and, through encouragement and instruction, children and adults with mental retardation proved themselves more athletically capable than anyone had thought possible. They also enjoyed many other benefits - physical, social, and psychological. Mrs. Shriver organized the First International Special Olympics Games, which were held in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago. At those first Games 1,000 athletes from the United State and Canada competed in track & field and aquatics. Today, still headed by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics is the world's largest year-round program of a physical fitness, sports training, and athletic competition for people with mental retardation. Close to one million athletes participate in every state of the U.S. and in over 140 countries around the world. What started out as a daycamp has rapidly developed into an organization of international significance, and Special Olympics has indeed become "A World of Winners."
The Organization of Special Olympics Utah
Special Olympics Utah was chartered by the Governor in 1970 to meet the needs of the citizens with mental retardation throughout the state of Utah. Program services provided in Utah are dependant on contributions from Utah. Special Olympics Utah is accredited annually by Special Olympics International.
Training and competition are provided at three basic levels: local, area, and state.
Local teams, such as schools or community based programs practice and compete.
Area programs provide training and competition at a larger level in six basic geographic areas of the state. The area games take place prior to state events, typically in a one day format across Utah.
State Events are usually three day and two night multi-sport events. The Winter Games are in Ogden, the Summer Games are in Provo, and the Fall Games are in Salt Lake City. Together these games offer 17 sports, and an opportunity for many (more than 1000 at an event) athletes to experience a world class competition.
In Utah more than 2000 athletes and 5000 volunteers are involved in all levels of the program.
Its amazing what team spirit can do.
You enjoy the game more. You sharpen skills, stay on your toes, build confidence and strength, and get closer to yourself and to your teammates. You push yourself to do your very best every time for the sake of the team.
Unified Sports7 is a program that can involve special education students with their elementary, junior high, and high school peers - through sports. Unified Sports7 brings together equal numbers of athletes with and without mental retardation and other closely related developmental disabilities, of similar age and ability, on the same team to train for competitions against other Unified Sports7 teams. With the help of a volunteer coach, they train together year-round in a variety of sports after school or on weekends. Only a few hours together each week gives everyone involved a chance to develop sports skills, build new relationships and reap the benefits.
The Unified Sports7 program in Denver, Colorado, proves just how powerful this team spirit can be. Over 130 schools have Unified Sports7 teams, and the number of Special Olympics athletes in the school system went from 300 to over 1000 in just three years. "I've heard special education teachers talk about how they've seen so much more than they ever expected, and how their students now actively participate on all levels," says Kathy Smith, Denver public schools coordinator.
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Utah can accomplish these same things.
These programs in the elementary schools provide special education students an introduction to team sports at an early age. They also offer a positive foundation for activity between special education and general education students and interaction occurs more naturally when they move into junior and senior high.
For Brent Decker, special education teacher and Unified Sports7 coordinator at Lincoln High School in Colorado, it's the reward that keep both special education and other Lincoln students returning each year to play. The school pep rallies include all of the Unified Sports7 teams. Game times, scores and MVPs are announced, banners cover the hall on game days, and large trophies and letters are given at sports banquets.
Lincoln has had Unified Sports7 teams in soccer, track and basketball for the past three years, and each year, Decker has had enough interested students to form two teams, one higher ability and one lower ability. "It gives everyone a chance to play, and they love the whole attitude on the teams. It's positive and open," Decker said. "Some have improved their skills and confidence enough to try out and play for varsity."
"The parents are amazed at what their children are doing out there. So are other special education teachers. Those students are doing things no one ever expected them to do."
As a special education or physical education teacher, principal or school administrator, you can motivate students to join an existing program, or begin a program at your school. It's not difficult to start a Unified Sports7 - Special Olympics can provide you with all the information, training and support you need. Parents, students, families and neighbors, along with your local Special Olympics office, help you make your program a success.