In 1968, five years after she had started a summer day camp for children and adults with intellectual disabilities at her home in Maryland, Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw her dream realized in Chicago at the first International Special Olympics Summer Games.
On July 20, 1968, together with the Chicago Park District, the Kennedy Foundation hosted the competition which included 1,000 athletes with intellectual disabilities from 26 states and Canada competing in athletics, floor hockey and aquatics.
Five months later, Special Olympics, Inc. was established as a not-for-profit charitable organization under the laws of the District of Columbia. The National Association for Retarded Citizens, the Council for Exceptional Children, and the American Association on Mental Deficiency pledged their support for this first systematic effort to provide sports training and athletic competition for individuals with intellectual disabilities based on the Olympic tradition and spirit.
Special Olympics began in Texas in 1969 within the recreation division of the Texas Association for Retarded Citizens (TARC). The first Summer Games was hosted at Paul Tyson Stadium in Waco, June 6-7, 1969 with 350 athletes competing in 10 track and field events.
In 1974, Special Olympics moved the Summer Games to the University of Texas at Austin, the home of the competition for the 15 consecutive years and 18 total. More than 1,400 athletes competed in the event.
By 1978, Texas Special Olympics was established as a separate, non-profit organization. The Summer Games introduced a quota for track and field events of 2,400 athletes, encouraging athletes to participate in the other two sports of aquatics and gymnastics.
During the 15 consecutive years that the Summer Games were held at the University of Texas, the program saw tremendous growth. The 1982 Summer Games were the largest on record with 4,000 athletes competing. The Law Enforcement Torch Run in Texas began in 1985 when a small group of Houston police officers carried a Special Olympics torch to the Houston city limits and gave it to a group from the Bexar County Mounted Patrol. The county officers, on horseback, carried the Torch to Austin to help open the Summer Games.
The Summer Games moved away from the University of Texas to Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos in 1989. Home Sports Entertainment, now Fox Sports Southwest, began its relationship with Special Olympics, airing a two-hour post games special.
Expanding its statewide competition opportunities in 1991, Texas added the Winter Games, held in Houston.
A Yale University study published in 1995 showed the benefits of participation in Special Olympics as enhancing social competence and adaptive skills, building positive self-perception and improving work performance, while encouraging independence and offering real physical benefits.
While celebrating the 30th anniversary of the movement in 1998, the organization underwent an official name change to become Special Olympics Texas, Inc.
Kicking off the new Millennium, Special Olympics Texas broke new ground in 2001 with the additional of a third statewide competition, the Fall Classic. More than 1,000 athletes competed in five sports at the world-class facilities at Texas A&M University and surrounding area venues.
Beginning an extraordinary adventure in 2004, Special Olympics Texas hosted the filming of the Farrelly Brothers movie, The Ringer, at various sites in Austin and San Marcos. Special Olympics Texas athletes, volunteers, coaches and staff played a crucial role in the filming, acting as production liaisons, movie extras and movie stars.
In 2004, in response to a call from our athletes and the growing social unacceptability of the term "mental retardation" around the world, Special Olympics adopted the term "intellectual disabilities" when referring to the people whom we serve.
More than 1,800 Special Olympics athletes from 80 countries competed in the Eighth Special Olympics World Winter Games in Nagano, Japan in February 2005. This event marked the first time the Special Olympics World Winter Games were held in Asia. Justin Horton, Kristen Lyons and Tekla Petecki made the Lone Star State and their country proud, earning gold, silver and 7th place respectively after skating their compulsory and free skate programs.
Mattel, Inc. and the Mattel Children's Foundation announce the launch of a three-year global partnership with Special Olympics in 2005. The partnership encompassed the development of three programs, the Young Athletes program, which engages youth ages 2 through 7 with intellectual disabilities; the Special Olympics Get Into It (SO Get Into It) school-based curriculum, which teaches understanding, acceptance and involvement; and Team Mattel, which engages Mattel employees as volunteers in the Special Olympics movement around the world. Funding for the first year totaled $1 million. Texas was among the states selected to run a pilot program for Young Athletes.
Fox Searchlight released The Ringer, a Farrelly Brothers film about Special Olympics (shot in Texas and featuring Special Olympics Texas athletes) that used humor to challenge negative stereotypes of people with intellectual disabilities in December 2005.
The first-ever Special Olympics USA National Games was held in Ames, Iowa. Special Olympics Texas sent a delegation of more than 135 athletes and coaches to the Games in July 2006.
In October 2006, three Special Olympics Texas athletes traveled to Shanghai to compete in the Special Olympics Shanghai Invitational Games. Myles Barman of Plano, Paul Holland of Shady Shores and Hillary Kern of Houston joined 21 athletes from across the United States for the Games.
Sixty Texas athletes competed in the World Summer Games in Shanghai, the People's Republic of China in October 2007. Captain Hector Leal of the Harlingen Police Department represented Texas in the Torch Run Final Leg.
In October 2008, Special Olympics Texas and the Texas Law Enforcement Torch Run hosted the 2008 International Law Enforcement Torch Run Conference in Dallas.
Special Olympics Texas celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009.
On August 11, 2009, the founder of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, passed away at her family home in Massachusetts. Letters and messages celebrating her contribution to humanity poured in from people and world leaders from around the world.
Special Olympics Texas sent 152 athletes and 39 coaches from the Lone Star State to represent Texas at the second Special Olympics USA National Games in Lincoln, Nebraska in July 2010. Texas had the second largest delegation after the host state of Nebraska.
Today, with 44,153 athletes and offering 22 sports at more than 300 competitions, Special Olympics Texas is one of the largest Special Olympics programs in the world. More than 42 years after the start of the movement, the perception of people with intellectual disabilities has changed tremendously. Our athletes are celebrated for their abilities, not humiliated because of their disabilities. Special Olympics athletes in Texas hold leadership roles within the organization with two athlete representatives serving on the Board of Directors. Our athletes compete internationally and nationally, race in city triathlons, play in community recreational leagues in basketball and softball, have been guests at the White House and Governor's Mansion, and have even carried the Olympic Torch. Through years of service by dedicated volunteers, partners, donors, family members, athletes and staff, Special Olympics Texas changes lives. But the challenge is still ahead for us - for every athlete that participates in our program, there are 16 people in the state of Texas with intellectual disabilities who do not.