The movement known worldwide as Special Olympics began simply as the idea of one extraordinary woman with a vision. Eunice Kennedy Shriver believed that people with intellectual disabilities were far more capable in sports and physical activities than many experts thought.

And so, the world’s largest amateur sports organization began in 1962 as a day camp in the backyard of Eunice and Sargent Shriver, with the first International games taking place in 1968. Today, the movement thrives in more than 170 countries throughout the world.

Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) soon followed suit continuing Shriver’s legacy in May 1970 when 135 brave athletes participated in the first official Pennsylvania event – a small track and field competition at West Chester University. Today, SOPA trains nearly 20,000 athletes who compete annually in 21 Olympic-type sports at more than 260 local, sectional, and state-level competitions.

Who’s eligible?

To be eligible to participate in Special Olympics, athletes must have an intellectual disability, a cognitive delay, or a development disability, that is, functional limitations in both general learning and adaptive skills. Participation in Special Olympics starts at age 8, and there’s no maximum age limit.

Younger children with intellectual disabilities (ages 2 to 7) can participate in the Young AthletesTM program, either at home or through a nearby Special Olympics program.

A third program, Unified Sports, brings Special Olympics athletes and individuals without intellectual disabilities together as teammates for training and competition.

How to get involved

If you or your child is interested in becoming an athlete, please contact the local Special Olympics program near you in Pennsylvania, New Jersey or another area.

Please note: Before an athlete can begin Special Olympics sports training, the athlete's parent/guardian must complete an Application for Participation. A signature from authorized medical personnel is required on the form. Authorized medical personnel includes MDs, DOs, CRNPs, FNPs, and PAs.  The form must be updated every three years.

Submit the completed athlete participation form to your local Special Olympics program coordinator.

Contributed by: Chelsea Drob, Special Olympics PA