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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.

Fifty years of bravery and joy

Mike Stone had never felt such a mix of nerves and excitement before in his life. He had mustered up the courage to get on the plane and had flown over 500 miles for this. He felt it in the pit of his stomach that this moment would change his life. At just 12 years old, Stone unknowingly became part of the foundation of the largest movement for and by people with intellectual disabilities: Special Olympics. Read more here. 

50 Great Moments in Special Olympics History

2005: “The Ringer”

“The Ringer” opened in theaters in the United States and Canada in 2005! Did you know? The film has appearances from more than 150 Special Olympics athletes. Producers also worked with Special Olympics to ensure the movie challenged destructive stereotypes about people with intellectual disabilities.

2006: First USA Games takes place

The first ever Special Olympics USA Games took place in Ames, Iowa, in 2006! This begins the tradition of taking the infamous “NC” photo at every USA Games.

2007: Shanghai hosted the Special Olympics World Summer Games

Nearly 165 nations were represented in 25 different sports. SONC’s own Kerry Hagner competed in cycling at the 2007 World Games and brought home a gold medal, silver medal, and seventh place ribbon!

2008: Happy 40th anniversary, Special Olympics!

Special Olympics celebrated its 40th anniversary as a true global movement in 2008, with nearly 3 million athletes in more than 180 countries, including Afghanistan!

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: SONC receives state funding for first time

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.

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!

1992: Special Olympics NC athletes compete at Penn Relays

Though the year 1988 marked the first year Special Olympics athletes competed in the Penn Relays, Special Olympics NC has been represented at the elite competition almost every year since 1992 including in 2017 when Samantha Munson of Franklin County brought home gold!

1993: Donna Parker represents SONC at 1993 presidential parade

Donna Parker represented SONC in the 1993 presidential parade for Bill Clinton on January 20, which was the first time that an organization for people with disabilities is in the parade. Just two months later, Parker took to the slopes at the 1993 Special Olympics World Winter Games!

1994: Billy Quick named to Board of Directors

In a fantastic example of athlete leadership, Billy Quick was elected to the SONC Board of Directors and the 1999 Special Olympics World Games Board of Directors in 1994!

1995: Mike Teem named to International Torch Run Hall of Fame

Mike Teem (r) was named the only North Carolina officer to be inducted into the International Torch Run Hall of Fame in 1995!

1995: NC named World Games site

In 1995, North Carolina is named the site for the 1999 Special Olympics World Games by Sargent Shriver!

1997: Keith Fishburne named President/CEO of SONC

Keith L. Fishburne was named President/CEO of Special Olympics North Carolina in May of 1997! That same year, he was also named as a member of the Board of Directors and executive committee for the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games that were held in Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham.

1999: Athletes from across the world meet in Raleigh for World Games

Special Olympics athletes from all over the world came to Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill for the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games! Athletes enjoyed performances by Billy Crystal and Stevie Wonder at the Opening Ceremony at Carter-Finley Stadium on June 26.

1999: World Games competition is well underway

More than 7,000 athletes from 150 nations competed in 19 sports during the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games!

2001: Bill Frick receives Unsung Hero Award

North Carolina’s own Bill Frick received the John Carion Unsung Hero Award at the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics International Conference in Wichita, Kansas. That year also marked the 20th anniversary of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics!

2002: 25 years of Southeast U.S. Winter Games

SONC celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Special Olympics Southeast U.S. Winter Games hosted at Appalachian Ski Mountain in 2002. This event is still going strong today!

2003: Duke Fuqua School becomes first platinum sponsor

In 2003, The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University became the first platinum-level sponsor of SONC with a donation of $100,000 from Duke MBA Games!

2004: First UNC Basketball Clinic

In 2004, the first UNC Basketball Clinic led by Roy Williams was held for 100 athletes from 22 local programs! Check out this recap from the 2018 clinic.

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!

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

North Carolina athlete featured in Smithsonian Exhibit

North Carolinian Marty Sheets is one of four Special Olympics athletes featured in an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History that displays the history and impact of Special Olympics. The exhibit is on display through June 2019. Read more about the exhibit

Special Olympics celebrates 50th anniversary in Chicago

The Special Olympics movement returned to Chicago for a weekend-long celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary! Festivities included the dedication of the eternal Flame of Hope monument outside Soldier Field, a Unified soccer tournament, the Global Day of Inclusion and a celebration concert. You can still purchase your 50th anniversary souvenir pin or coin here.