SPECIAL OLYMPICS AND THE KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS
Special Olympics was founded by Eunice Shriver who had a sister with intellectual disabilities. Although her sister Rosemary was able to participate in various sporting events with her family, Eunice realized that other less fortunate people with intellectual disabilities were simply excluded and routinely placed in custodial facilities. Although they were often ignored and neglected Eunice knew that they had many talents and gifts to offer and decided to do something about it.
In 1962 she began inviting people with intellectual disabilities to day camps held in her back yard. The goal was to explore the children’s and young adult’s skills in a variety of sports and physical activities. That idea took root and began to grow rapidly culminating in the first Special Olympics games being held in July 1968 at Soldiers Field in Chicago, Illinois. About 1000 athletes participated in those games. At the opening ceremony Eunice said that “these games prove a very fundamental fact that children and adults with intellectual disabilities can be exceptional athletes and through sport, they can realize their potential to play, compete and grow”. One woman’s vision has evolved from a modest back yard day camp to the International Special Olympics Organization – a global movement that today serves 4.7 million people with intellectual disabilities in 170 countries.
KNIGHTS GET INVOLVED FROM THE BEGINNING
Eunice’s husband Sargent Shriver was a Knight of Columbus and when he saw the results of the work his wife had begun, recognized that this new organization would need long term support from a national charitable organization. He approached the Knights national office and asked for support for the first Special Olympics in 1968. The Knights immediately responded with both money and volunteers. Since that first Olympics, the Knights of Columbus have provided over $600 Million and over a billion volunteer hours! There are now over 450 Councils that include local Special Olympics chapters in their yearly plans for both financial and volunteer hours support.
Our Lady of the Rosary Council 13135 has become very active with the Indian River County Special Olympics and the State of Florida Special Olympics. For the last six years we have provided the food, cooked and served over 18,000 meals for athletes, coaches and volunteers at the swimming meets for both the Area Games and Statewide Games. This is a very large undertaking requiring many volunteers including Knights wives and older children. It is truly a family event. The Knights also provide volunteers for the Timing, Staging, and Awards Areas for the swimming competitions. In fact, a Knight of Columbus has been the Awards announcer for the last seven years. Both our Council and the Announcer have received Regional and Statewide Awards for outstanding contributions to Special Olympics.
Although our primary focus is on swimming, we have also provided the same services for the smaller but no less important Equestrian Games.
The Knights of Columbus partnership with Special Olympics Internationally, Nationally , Regionally and Locally continues to grow and flourish each year. We encourage you to come to an event as a fan. Without a doubt, you will become a fan and maybe even a volunteer for life!