Special Olympics Ontario (SOO)
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.
Dr. Frank Hayden
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 (SOO) is a volunteer-driven organization with some 14,000 athletes and 9000 volunteers registered across the province. Athletes range in age from eight to eighty and have the opportunity to train in eighteen official sports and numerous demonstration sports.
At the community level, SOO - Stratford & Area has over 50 registered volunteers and close to 120 registered athletes. Every facet of the program, from administration to coaching, is run by volunteers.
The primary objective of SOO 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 through the staging of Provincial , National and International Games.
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.