Special Olympics 50th Anniversary

Celebrating 50 years of empowerment: 1968-2018

Since 1968, Special Olympics has been changing attitudes about the talents of people with intellectual disabilities. Since 1968, Special Olympics has been changing the world! We are excited to celebrate the movement’s 50th anniversary throughout 2018.

Help us celebrate 50 years of Special Olympics

Give $50 in honor of 50 years and get your choice of a limited-edition commemorative 50th Anniversary Gold Pin or Gold Coin! Get yours now

Here’s your chance to light the Flame of Hope

Commemorating 50 years of profound impact and providing a shining beacon for the Inclusion Revolution, the Eternal Flame of Hope monument is the newest addition to Chicago’s world-class public art collection. Featuring a custom design by renowned sculptor Richard Hunt, the monument will welcome millions of visitors each year to its prominent location at the main entrance of the Museum Campus and Soldier Field. The sculpture will rise 30 feet into the air and feature an eternal flame, burning perpetually to honor athletes past, present & future as a symbol of hope and inclusivity.

The permanent monument plaza and sculpture will be dedicated at a special ceremony on July 20, 2018. The monument’s landscaped plaza and donor recognition walls will be inscribed with the names of supporters from around the world who have helped to “light the flame”. Donations at the $500 Heroes Level or above receive recognition on the website below and on the Eternal Flame of Hope monument donor wall. More information is available here.

50 Great Moments in Special Olympics History

1989: Duke Fuqua holds first Duke MBA Games for SONC

The year 1989 marked the very first Duke MBA Games benefitting SONC! Since then, the Duke MBA Games have evolved into the largest student run event on their campus and has raised over $2 million for Special Olympics North Carolina.

1990: Special Olympics NC has first Unified competition

The first Unified game in North Carolina was held May 16, 1990 as Davidson County hosted a Unified softball benefit game in Thomasville. Now, about 1.4 million people worldwide take part in Unified Sports!

1991: 90 SONC athletes compete at 1991 International Summer Games

Special Olympics NC was represented by 90 athletes and 26 coaches at the 1991 International Special Olympics Summer Games in Minnesota, including Wake County athlete Tracy Baird, who competed in swimming!

1993: Governor James B. Hunt declares May 21 as “Special Olympics Day in North Carolina”

In honor of the 25th anniversary of Special Olympics, Governor James B. Hunt declared May 21, 1993 as “Special Olympics Day in North Carolina.” Now, 25 years later, Governor Roy Cooper has declared July 21st, 2018 as the “Special Olympics Global Day of Inclusion” here in North Carolina!

1968: First Special Olympics Games

On July 20, 1968, 1,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities competed in the first Special Olympics International Games at Soldier Field in Chicago. Six North Carolina athletes attended the 1968 Games, including Marty Sheets.

1970: First Special Olympics competition held in NC

Special Olympics North Carolina held its first Games May 29-31, 1970 in Burlington. 400 athletes and 350 chaperones and parents attended.

1971: SONC is chartered

In November 1971, North Carolina Special Olympics, Inc. is chartered in Burlington to administer the Special Olympics program in North Carolina.

1974: First SONC Games held in Raleigh

In May 1974, the Capital City Jaycees held the first North Carolina Games in Raleigh for nearly 1,400 athletes.  Approximately 5,700 athletes in 42 counties compete in Special Olympics at this time.

1975: First state-level basketball competition

In November 1975, over 200 athletes met in Durham to compete in the first North Carolina Fall Basketball Games. Today, Basketball is one of the most popular sports with 95 local programs offering it and over 10,000 athletes throughout the state!

1976: First SONC address and phone number

North Carolina made it big in 1976! For the first time, Special Olympics NC has an office located at 3901 Barrett Drive in Raleigh.

1977: Seven SONC athletes attend first Special Olympics International Winter Games

Seven Special Olympics North Carolina athletes traveled to Steamboat Springs, Colorado to compete in the first international winter games.

1977: First SONC Games held in Raleigh

In 1977, the North Carolina legislature passes a bill allocating funds to Special Olympics NC for the first time. This funding would continue until 1984.

1978: Special Olympics NC hosts first Southeast U.S. Winter Games

In 1978, Special Olympics North Carolina held the very first Southeast U.S. Winter Games at Appalachian Ski Resort under the direction of French-Swiss Ski College’s President, Jim Cottrell, and SONC’s Director, Monty Castevens.

More than 300 athletes from six states, including Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, came together to train and compete in various winter sports.

“The Southeast U.S. Winter Games was the first event of its kind and Eunice Kennedy Shriver herself came down to see the event in its third year,” said Jim. “It served as a kind of guide for Special Olympics events across the world in that time.”

To this day, Jim (left) helps run the Special Olympics Southeast U.S. Winter Games each year as even more athletes experience the joy of Alpine skiing and snowboarding.

1979: SONC gets a new logo

In 1979, SONC adopted the state logo using the Special Olympics seal along with the mountains and ocean, symbolizing the statewide program. The logo may have changed over the years, but SONC still serves athletes throughout the entire state.

1981: Twiggy Sanders hosts SONC basketball clinic

Twiggy Sanders hosts a basketball clinic for Special Olympics North Carolina athletes.  The Harlem Globetrotters and NC State basketball team coached skills stations.  Twiggy Sanders is named head basketball coach for SONC.

1981: SONC transitions leadership

In 1981, Alan L. Bolick becomes Executive Director of SONC, replacing Monty Castevens who leaves to join the Special Olympics International staff.

1981: Special Olympics NC Fall Games held at Fort Bragg

For the first time, the annual Fall Games was held at Fort Bragg, N.C. in 1981 and had over 300 athletes in attendance! They continued to host the games for the next two years until the Fall Games was divided into tournaments held across the state. Fort Bragg hosted the Basketball Tournament for many years after that.

1983: EKS visits the Southeast

In 1983, five years after its inception, the Southeast Region Winter Games had a very special visitor: Eunice Kennedy Shriver!

1983: SONC basketball teams play at Carmichael for first time

Special Olympics NC basketball teams played at halftime in Carmichael in 1983, marking the first time Special Olympics had been in front of ACC audience. Look how far we have come since then! In 2017, Special Olympics NC made its way back to Carmichael for the 2017 Unified Rivalry Game featuring competition between teams from Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

1983: “Buy Some Fries for Special Gals and Guys”

Another big moment in 1983: Hardee’s sponsored SONC’s first and largest statewide fundraising/promo program, called “Buy Some Fries for Special Gals and Guys,” with a NC corporation!

1983: Special Olympics NC athletes attend International Summer Games

A delegation of 80 athletes and 20 coaches represented SONC in the sixth International Summer Special Olympics Games in Baton Rouge. At this event, SONC athlete Sandra Wilson set a new record in the 25m wheelchair race!

1984: Special Olympics NC holds first coaches training

In 1984, 60 coaches attended the first certified coaches training for athletics at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Today, there are over 6,200 certified coaches in North Carolina! Can you believe how far we have come?

1985: First training camp held for southeast region athletes

In preparation of the 1985 SONC International Winter Games, Special Olympics NC hosted the first International Games Training Camp for southeast region athletes attending the games.

1986: Special Olympics NC holds first gymnastics meet

In 1986, Special Olympics NC held our first gymnastics meet and training school in Greensboro. Today, gymnastics is a staple sport at the annual SONC Summer Games!

1980: Special Olympics NC receives Key to the City

On January 21, 1980, Mayor Hadley M. Wilson of Boone, NC, presented Special Olympics North Carolina with the Key to the City!

1987: Special Olympics NC holds first Torch Run

Though the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics was founded in 1981, North Carolina held its first Torch Run in March of 1987! More than 400 officers ran a combined 240 miles over 3 days for SONC. Can you believe we now have more than 200 agencies involved in the NC Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics?

1988: Equestrian and Powerlifting are added to Summer Games

The year 1988 marked equestrian and powerlifting’s introduction to North Carolina and Summer Games. Just two years later, in 1990, the SONC Equestrian Development Team was established, the first in the state and one of the first in the country. Now, equestrian is a stand-alone event held annually in September and powerlifting has remained a staple sport at Summer Games!

1989: First athletes trained in Athletes for Outreach program

In April of 1989, Dee Gantt (left) and Anna Jackson (right) traveled to South Carolina to take part in an Athletes for Outreach training, becoming the first North Carolinians to be trained. Seven months later in November, eight Special Olympics athletes were trained in the Athletes for Outreach program for the first time in North Carolina.

Get Involved in Honor of our 50th!

In just 50 years, the Special Olympics movement has grown to a worldwide revolution seeking to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. But we can’t do it alone! In honor of our 50th anniversary, consider getting involved in a variety of ways!

50th Anniversary Celebration in Chicago

Five decades later, the Special Olympics movement is returning to Chicago to launch the year-long global Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebrations in July 2018.

Events planned for July 2018 in Chicago include the first-ever Special Olympics Unified Cup.

Also planned is a star-studded Global Day of Inclusion, where the public can “Play Unified” and join in fun athletic competition with Special Olympics athletes. There will also be the ceremonial lighting of the Special Olympics Eternal Flame of Hope, which will symbolize our burning passion for inclusion and justice for people with intellectual disabilities.

Learn more about the Chicago celebration and view the save the date.