Guests of Honor
South Bay cities open their doors to Special Olympic athletes in anticipation of this year’s World Games.
- Written byMichele Garber
For nine days this summer, Los Angeles will host the Special Olympics Summer World Games. The United States is the birthplace of the Special Olympics movement, yet it has not hosted a Summer Games in 16 years.
Americans from coast to coast and especially Angelinos are buzzing with anticipation as preparations are eagerly made to welcome the athletes and the world back to the U.S. This summer’s Special Olympics World Games will be the largest global multi-sport and humanitarian event of 2015, as delegations from 177 countries—from Albania to Zimbabwe—converge in Southern California to celebrate competition and the transformative power of sports to foster acceptance and inclusion.
First Stop: South Bay
One especially impactful and legacy-forming program of the Special Olympics World Games is the Host Town program. The athletes and coaches of the 177 participating countries will arrive in Los Angeles on July 21. For many members of these delegations, this will not only be their first time in California but likely their first visit to the U.S.
Beyond having time to rest, acclimate and prepare for competition, the athletes will want time to interact with the community and experience the local lifestyle and culture of their host city. To ensure these remarkable athletes have the ultimate Olympic experience, 100 Southern California towns and communities from San Diego to San Luis Obispo have volunteered to serve as Host Towns. The Host Town program, running July 21–24, is entirely funded by each local community, and the agendas and accommodations for their international guests are individually planned and tailored by each of the Host Town committees.
Among the 100 Southern California Host Towns communities, four South Bay cities are proud participants in the Host Town program and will welcome their own international Special Olympics delegations. El Segundo will host delegations from Barbados, FYR Macedonia and Uzbekistan; Hermosa Beach will welcome Belgium and Belize; Manhattan Beach will host Hungary and Nepal; and the delegations from Benin, Haiti and Suriname will be guests of Redondo Beach.
Each of the South Bay Host Towns has formed its own organizing committee to make the arrangements for their delegations and secure the needed funding to provide transportation, room and board, and local activities during the program. Host Town committees have been actively securing support through a variety of fundraising initiatives, generous donations—both financial and in-kind—from individuals, and numerous sponsorships by local businesses, charities and social organizations.
Each of these Beach Cities has its own distinct events and activities planned to provide its Special Olympics delegates with a uniquely local and once-in-a-lifetime experience—tailored to provide the best of what each city has to offer. From a visit to the mall, pier, a museum or the local fire station to enjoying a pancake breakfast, picnic or barbeque, the athletes and coaches will see firsthand what makes each town of the South Bay truly unique. Unsurprisingly, every South Bay Host Town has multiple activities planned at their beaches, which for delegates hailing from landlocked countries such as Hungary, Nepal and Uzbekistan, may be an especially enjoyable experience.
As a perfect finale to the three days of Host Town activities, before each athlete departs to their Olympic Villages and the opening ceremony the mayors and committees of the four South Bay Host Towns will join together at a unifying all-beach-town event for a celebratory send-off of all 10 South Bay hosted delegations.
A Movement in the Making
Years before the first international Special Olympics Summer Games were held in 1968 at Chicago’s Soldier Field, the roots of the Special Olympics movement formed through the personal experience, empathy and love of a devoted sister. Eunice Kennedy Shriver was the middle of nine children in the Kenneday family—America’s equivalent to royals.
The Kennedys were wealthy, attractive, athletic, charismatic and powerful. To the outside world they seemed to have it all. The family endured many public tragedies, including the death of the oldest son, Joseph Patrick Kennedy, Jr., during World War II.
But the Kennedys kept some personal hardships private. Their third child and eldest daughter, Rosemary, named after her mother, Rose, had a mild intellectual disability. Rosemary and Eunice grew up swimming, sailing, skiing and playing a variety of sports together with their active family.
But Rosemary’s options and opportunities were limited, especially in that era. Eunice saw firsthand how individuals with intellectual disabilities were excluded, marginalized and neglected … and commonly institutionalized.
Through her deeply personal experience with her own sister, Eunice recognized that each person with an intellectual disability still had talents, potential and gifts to offer. And early on she realized that through the miraculous power of sports, the lives and spirits of those with intellectual disabilities could be greatly enhanced.
In 1946 the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation was established to “do good works” and shortly thereafter began focusing its efforts on addressing the issues of intellectual disability (ID). From disseminating information on ways to prevent its root causes to dealing with how society treats those with ID, the foundation was dedicated to improving the lives of those with ID.
In 1947 Eunice was appointed a trustee of the JPK Jr. Foundation, and in 1957 she became its director. While the JPK Jr. Foundation was donating millions of dollars toward scientific grants and funding a research laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, President John F. Kennedy, Eunice’s brother, announced the establishment of a “President’s Panel on Mental Retardation” (a term commonly used at that time to describe those with ID; it is no longer considered appropriate terminology).
In June 1962 Eunice and her husband, Sargent Shriver, invited dozens of young people with ID, ages 6 to 16, to their home in suburban Washington, D.C., for a summer day camp they affectionately called “Shriver Camp.” In July a second day camp opened in D.C., the first of a series of JPK Jr. Foundation-funded day camps for children with disabilities. These summer day camps were the precursor to what would become the Special Olympics.
Then on September 22, 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver penned an article for the Saturday Evening Post entitled “Hope for Retarded Children.” In the article she revealed to the nation and the world that the Kennedy family had a sister with an ID. This brave and candid admission had a monumental impact on the way our nation and others around the globe would view and respond to those with intellectual disabilities from that moment on.
It was especially significant because one the Kennedys was the sitting president of the United States. If President John Kennedy could have a sibling with an intellectual disability, anyone could. Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s article altered the future course for those with ID, and with her courage, honesty and pen, a movement had begun.
Over the course of the next several years, empirical research reaffirmed the scientific community’s theories on the benefits of physical training and activity for those with intellectual disabilities, including the “dramatic” improvement of learning skills. Under both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, bills were signed and funding was put in place for the care, treatment and special education of those with ID.
Photographs courtesy of Special Olympics
Then in July 1968 the Kennedy Foundation and the Chicago Park District held the first “Olympic” games for children with intellectual disabilities. Following the success of the games, Eunice Kennedy Shriver pledged that they would be held every two years in a “Biennial International Special Olympics.”
In 1971 the U.S. Olympic Committee gave the Special Olympics official authorization to use the name “Olympics” in the U.S., making it one of only two organizations authorized to do so. In 1977 the first Special Olympics Winter Games were held in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, with 500 athletes competing and all three major networks covering the games.
Today the Special Olympics World Games are held every two years in odd years, alternating between winter and summer, just as the Olympic Games are held. Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s dream of inclusion, understanding, respect and acceptance for those with intellectual disabilities is a reality. The Special Olympics provides year-round sports training and athletic competition in 32 Olympic-style events to 4.4 million children and adults around the globe who have ID.
The 2015 Special Olympics Summer World Games will take place July 25 to August 2, with opening and closing ceremonies held at the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. A staggering 7,000 athletes, ages 8 to 80, plus their 3,000 coaches from 177 nations, will be in attendance. Olympic villages near USC and UCLA will house the athletes.
One-half million spectators are expected to attend events, including 80,000 at the major ceremonies. Venues throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area—from Encino to Long Beach—will host 25 different Olympic-style sporting events, supported by more than 30,000 volunteers. The games will air on ESPN, the official broadcaster of the LA 2015 Games.
For more on the games, visit la2015.org.
THE GAMES: BY THE NUMBERS
100 athletes and coaches visiting each Host Town
$10,000 minimum raised by Host Towns to cover costs
9 days of games
7,000 athletes in attendance
177 participating countries
25 competitive sports
500,000 event spectators