50 Years of Inclusion

In 2023, Special Olympics Minnesota is celebrating its 50th anniversary!

Throughout the past five decades, Special Olympics Minnesota has become the leading force in the inclusion revolution, promoting inclusive social change for people with intellectual disabilities in athletic, health and school programs throughout the state. Special Olympics Minnesota isn’t a singular event. It’s a movement. And we want you to join us as we head into the next 50 years of the Inclusion Revolution!

FROM THE DESK OF DAVE DORN, PRESIDENT & CEO

Celebrating 50 Years of Inclusion in Minnesota

In 2023, we’re celebrating Special Olympics Minnesota’s 50th anniversary! It’s hard to believe that we’re honoring five decades of spreading inclusion in Minnesota, but time flies when you’re having fun.

Read more from Dave Dorn
STORIES OF CHAMPIONS

Austin found his power through Special Olympics Minnesota

Austin is a Special Olympics Minnesota athlete from Springfield, MN. He joined a Special Olympics Minnesota powerlifting team 6 years ago as a shy and soft-spoken 22-year-old. Since then, he has shattered state records, won four gold medals at the national Special Olympics USA Games, and made lasting friendships with his coaches and teammates.

1968-1989

1968

The first ever Special Olympics Games were held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, launching a world-wide movement of inclusion.

1973
The Special Olympics movement began in Minnesota as a grassroots movement and on December 7, 1973, Special Olympics Minnesota was officially created as a nonprofit.

1980s
In 1988 Unified sports was launched. At the time, it was a groundbreaking idea to bring together people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. Today, about 1.4 million people participate in Unified sports worldwide. Here in Minnesota, we offer many Unified sport options: bowling, softball, basketball, golf, snowshoe and more!

1990s

In 1991, the Special Olympics World Games were held in the Twin Cities, with the Metrodome hosting Opening Ceremonies where Prince performed. The event brought more than 6,000 athletes from 91 nations to our state, providing a catalyst for the movement to continue growing locally.

By the end of the 90s, Healthy Athletes had become an official Special Olympics initiative, providing health-care services to Special Olympics athletes. Since its creation, the program has provided more than 1.7 million free health exams across the world.

Here in Minnesota, we serve hundreds of athletes every year with free screenings and education. In 1998, the first Polar Plunge event was held at Como Lake in Saint Paul, prompting a statewide phenomenon that has grown to more than 20 events statewide. Today, more than 100,000 people have taken the Polar Plunge in Minnesota.

2000s

In 2002, Special Olympics Minnesota launched its Athlete Leadership programs which seeks to empower people with intellectual disabilities to be advocates and leaders in their communities by teaching skills like public speaking and governance.

Young Athletes was launched as a major initiative in 2010. The innovative sports-play program centers inclusion for participants with and without disabilities and aims to develop fine motor skills and sport fundamentals.

In 2014, Special Olympics Minnesota adopted Unified Champion Schools, an initiative that brings our inclusive mission directly to schools. The Unified Champion Schools movement is working to empower a generation of student leaders to change their schools and communities to be more inclusive. Today, there are more than 220 Unified Champion Schools in Minnesota!

Today & beyond

The Special Olympics movement continues to grow in Minnesota and what began as a sports organization has grown into the premiere organization communities look to for leadership in the inclusion movement. In 2026, the Twin Cities will host the Special Olympics USA Games, bringing more than 100,000 athletes, coaches, families and fans to compete in more than 15 Olympic-style sports.

In the next 50 years, we will continue to break down barriers for people with intellectual disabilities and shatter misconceptions about Special Olympics. We will teach Minnesotans what it looks like to be leaders in the inclusion movement, and we will continue to showcase the joy of sport.

In the next 50 years, diversity, equity and inclusion will be at the core of everything we do. We’ve always thought of ourselves as an inclusive organization, but now it’s time to tackle inclusion with a more holistic approach. Through partnerships, training, and lots of conversation, we hope to make the movement more welcoming to everyone.

In the next 50 years, everyone will have a place in this organization. There will be more opportunities than ever to come out and have fun. Sports will stay at the core of our mission, but we will continue to grow and evolve, creating more opportunities for recreational activities and social inclusion in every aspect of life.