Special Olympics Ontario is a charitable, non-profit organization which provides year-round sport training for persons with intellectual disabilities. It is an organization based on an idea developed by Dr. Frank Hayden, a Canadian physical education professor from London, Ontario whose research showed that persons with intellectual disabilities can and should participate in physical exercise. Moreover, he believed that the benefits of such activity would be seen in all areas of the athletes’ lives. And so, with the help of a local school that offered space in its gym, the first organized sport program (floor hockey) for intellectually disabled individuals became available in the fall of 1968.
But Dr. Hayden didn’t stop there as he truly believed that all persons with intellectual disabilities had the right to not only community sport programs but also to high quality coaching and advancing levels of competition. With no firm support from the Canadian or Ontario governments, he took his case to Washington, D.C, to the home of Rose Kennedy, who herself had a disabled daughter. It was with her financial assistance and the powerful influence of the Kennedy family, that the first Special Olympics (as the movement came to be called) event, featuring athletes from only Canada and the United States, took place at Soldier’s Field, Chicago, in 1969.
Back home in Canada, broadcaster and philanthropist, Harry “Red” Foster got the Special Olympics “bug” and started spreading the word about the benefits of sport training for persons with intellectual disabilities and it was his tireless efforts and persuasive recruitment of sponsors that led to the development of the Special Olympics Ontario organization, mandated to recruit volunteers to run grass-roots sport training programs across the province. The organization became incorporated in 1979.
Meanwhile, Dr. Hayden had secured the unanimous support of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and was well on his way to making Special Olympics programming across the continental United States, the rest of Canada and a few other countries around the world. Today, 120 countries from all around the world have Special Olympics programs.
Special Olympics Ontario is a volunteer driven organization with some 19,000 athletes and 7,500 volunteers registered across the province. Athletes range in age from eight to eighty and have the opportunity to train in eighteen official sports.
The Windsor District Community of Special Olympics Ontario has over 100 registered volunteers and over 200 registered athletes. Every facet of the programs from administration to coaching is run by volunteers.
The primary objective of Special Olympics Ontario is to contribute to the physical, social and psychological development of people with intellectual disabilities through positive, successful experiences in sport.
The focus of the Special Olympics movement is to promote sport programming for such individuals in their community. However, in keeping with the philosophy of sport training, the organization also promotes competition at higher levels. This is accomplished with the staging of Provincial Games (held every two years) and National and International Games (held every four years).
Furthermore, the organization does not seek to restrict athletes to competition with other Special Olympians and in fact, promotes integration of its athletes into community based generic sports programs whenever possible.