History Of Special Olympics

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 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. 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. Canada was represented by a group of 12 students from Beverley school in Toronto, 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.

Special Olympics was officially founded in 1968 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver and has now grown to include nearly 3.7 million athletes in 229 accredited programs in 170 countries, including Canada.

In Toronto, On June 9, 1969, the very first Canadian Special Olympics national competition was held. It attracted 1,400 individuals with an intellectual disability from towns and cities across our country.

Special Olympics has now expanded across Canada into towns and cities of all sizes and is recognized by Sport Canada as the main provider of these services to people whose primary diagnosis is an intellectual disability. Special Olympics now enriches the lives of more than 36,000 children, youth and adults who are registered in its 17 Olympic-type winter and summer sport programs, as well as the lives of their family, friends and supporters. These programs run year-round out of local sport clubs.

For over 40 years, we have delivered one message to Canadians: people with an intellectual disability can and will succeed in life if given the opportunity.
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