It was not long after John F. Kennedy entered the White House in 1961, that his sister Eunice Kennedy-Shriver began one of the most heartfelt campaigns any Kennedy ever undertook. She argued to family members that it would be immensely helpful if they revealed one of their most closely guarded secrets, that one of their own, the President’s sister, Rosemary, was challenged with mental retardation. It took more than a year to bring the idea to fruition, and it finally won approval after the clan’s two central figures blessed it, Patriarch Joseph Kennedy made clear he could live with the disclosure as long as President Kennedy supported it. This was only the beginning of perhaps the most important contribution the Kennedys made to the nation and their role in changing the way the world treated people with mental retardation.
When Eunice Kennedy-Shriver envisioned Special Olympics in her Maryland backyard in the early 1960’s, she did not know it would lead to an international organization serving more than 3.7 million children and adults in 170 countries. What she did know is that men, women and children with mental retardation had the right to compete, to grow and to learn like everyone else.
On July 20, 1968 the first Special Olympics Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago. Today, Special Olympics Indiana provides year-round sports training and competition in 20 Olympic-type sports for more than 11,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills and friendship with their families, other Special Olympics athletes and the community.
In March of 2005, the Ripley, Ohio, Dearborn counties program was formed by a group of individuals and parents who believed in the Special Olympics movement. Today, the program serves more than 207 children and adults with intellectual disabilities; providing year-round sports training and competition in more than 15 Olympic-type sports.