The Special Olympics at 50


with Jason Schriml of Special Olympics USA Games


Jul 19, 2018

As the Special Olympics celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2018, we take a look back at the early days, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver created a backyard summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities. Today, there are 4.9 million Special Olympics athletes from more than 172 countries.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Traynham: 50 years ago, Eunice Kennedy Shriver founded the Special Olympics as a backyard summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities. A half a century later, Special Olympics is a global movement with more than 5 million athletes worldwide. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Robert Traynham. Joining me to discuss the ideas of inclusion embodied by the games is Jason Schriml from the Special Olympics USA Games. Jason, welcome to the program.

Schriml: Thank you.

Traynham: I should mention Eunice Kennedy Shriver again for those who may not remember her. She was the sister of the late President John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy and Ted Kennedy and so forth. And, if I remember correctly, Jason, they had a sister Rosemary who was intellectually challenged. And as I understand it, she was inspired -- meaning Eunice -- to start the Special Olympics. Is that correct?

Schriml: Yeah, Eunice and Rosemary had the closest relationship. And Eunice very early on realized that Rosemary would have some challenges because of her intellectual disability and ended up being her biggest advocate. And out of that relationship, that really deep relationship, wanted to include more people and to bring more individuals with intellectual disabilities to the forefront of our communities.

Traynham: And so, this started as a picnic or a barbecue or summer camp in someone´s backyard?

Schriml: Just a summer camp in Eunice Kennedy Shriver´s backyard, just up the road in Potomac.

Traynham: Potomac, Maryland?

Schriml: Potomac, Maryland, yep. They had a swimming pool. They had a large lawn where they did soccer, some basketball. Eunice Kennedy Shriver herself was in the swimming pool teaching lessons, and wanted to use sport as the vehicle to show the talents and strengths of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Traynham: You know, Jason, pardon my bias here, but I find sports to be an equalizer. No matter where you come from, no matter who you are, you are just an athlete on the field, or the pool or whatever, doing your thing. And you know, most people are just rooting you on. They just want you to succeed. And I assume that was Mrs. Shriver´s vision overall.

Schriml: Yeah, it was absolutely that, that sports is an equalizer. Whether you are an athlete, elite or part-time, or just a fan, sports brings a lot of things to our community and brings our communities together.

Traynham: Let´s focus on that for a few moments. As I understand it, your creed, your motto, is "inclusive communities." What does that mean?

Schriml: Yeah, so our athletes or individuals with intellectual disabilities are often on the fringes of our communities. You know, you don´t see them often, or they´re not included in educational opportunities or health opportunities. At least, that was certainly the case when the camp started in the ´60s. Better now, but still often not part of our communities and not recognized for their talents and their strengths. And the Special Olympics is using sports for that opportunity, to bring them into the light as a soccer player. So, if I´m a soccer player, I identify with an athlete from the Special Olympics as a soccer player first, not someone with a disability.

Traynham: So, as I mentioned a few moments ago, 2018 finds all of you celebrating your 50th anniversary. Any special projects? Anything that you´re doing to commemorate that?

Schriml: Yeah, amazing, 50 years. We know our history, but 50 years of anything -- if you´ve lasted 50 years, it´s a great thing.

Traynham: Sure.

Schriml: Our first games were in Chicago in 1968 at Soldier Field. And we are going back to Soldier Field, and Chicago is hosting us at the end of July, where we´ll celebrate the 50th with a unified soccer tournament and some concerts and the unveiling of a statue.

Traynham: Jason, for any loved ones that are watching, any neighbors, friends, or quite frankly people that are just interested in Special Olympics or perhaps maybe even trying to qualify, how do they get more information? How do they get more involved in Special Olympics, no matter where they are in the country?

Schriml: Yeah, if you go to, there is an area that says "Find a Program." So, when you´re in the United States and you´re in Nebraska or you´re in Alaska, you can go to that particular program. And they´ll find you contact information. And you get involved at the state level first, and then see what sports they have. And we go all year long. You know, there´s sports in the winter, in the summer and fall and spring, so there´s always an opportunity for all athletes.

Traynham: Jason Schriml from the Special Olympics USA Games, thank you very much for joining us.

Schriml: Thank you.

Traynham: And, of course, thank you for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Robert Traynham. Have a great day.

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