Leonardtown, MD – Years ago, race wasn’t the only thing that separated us. Your intellectual capabilities did. If you were considered special needs, you didn’t get the same opportunities as everyone else, because you were “different”.  You had your own classes for learning, you weren’t allowed to play sports, you couldn’t go to college, join the military, or anything else that “normal” people did. But in June of 1962, that all changed.

In June of 1962, a backyard summer camp for those with intellectual disabilities came about in Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s very own backyard, in suburban Washington, DC. Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s sister, who also happened to be President John F. Kennedy’s sister, had intellectual disabilities. This came out three months after President John F. Kennedy promised to make and endorsed that individuals with intellectual disabilities(formerly classified as mental retardation) would be a priority for his presidency. In just six short years, the very first international Special Olympics were held at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL.

Fast-forward to 2017. Most everyone is accepted and can do anything with anyone.  Of course there are exceptions. I know most people don’t know this, but my oldest stepson is high functioning Autistic. He graduated from Great Mills High School this past May and maintained honor roll his senior year. He was in all mainstream classes. Thirty or 40 years ago, this wouldn’t have happened. He would have been segregated to “special education” classes, or wouldn’t have been given the tools he needs to exceed. He is getting ready to start his first semester of college at CSM in September. My stepson has also participated in many Special Olympic activities. 
Special Olympics organizations are divided by county and even have the chance to move up to international status. In our area specifically, every year Leonardtown High School hosts the spring games for those athletes who want to participate each May. Sports range from bocce ball to track and field. Over 500 athletes participated in this past year’s spring games in the tri-county area. In June, the Summer Games are held at Towson University. The Summer Games are usually held over a weekend and include accommodations at Towson University’s dormitory rooms. 

Special Olympics is a not-for-profit organization, and there is no cost for athletes to participate, no matter their age or disability.  Everyone who helps with Special Olympics is 100 percent volunteer. It takes a lot of dedication and commitment, to help ensure these events are run smoothly and  that there are enough people to help cover various stations at the events. Most events include qualifiers and then a state competition. This proves to be a lot of fun for all the athletes. I think my favorite part of this is their motto:  “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”  If you would like more information on sports offered and how to register an athlete, please visit this web site.

Email Suzanne Copeland at s.copeland@thebaynet.com