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!


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.


Kevin & Lori: Friendships are at the forefront of the inclusion revolution

Kevin and Lori Torgerson have been advocates for Special Olympics Minnesota for decades. They’re excited to contribute to the continued growth and impact of Special Olympics and the future of the Inclusion Revolution.

Emily: What it means to be “brave in the attempt”

Since joining Special Olympics Minnesota in 2006, Emily’s equestrian talents as well as her social skills and confidence have skyrocketed. She recently competed in equestrian events at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games in Florida.

Dave: A lifetime of service

Dave Glover has volunteered for Special Olympics Minnesota 46 of its 50 years in existence. With a humble heart and lifelong commitment to service, he has helped shape the organization into what it is today.

Angie: A champion of Unified programming in Minneapolis Public Schools

Angie Powell is one of the most influential Unified advocates in the Minneapolis Public School district. Thanks to Angie’s passion for the Unified Movement, 18 MPS schools and counting are implementing Unified programming, impacting hundreds of students across Minneapolis.

Mia: Big goals and a bright future

Through Special Olympics, Mia Camp has gained friendships to last a lifetime; healthy goals for the future; and the confidence to live her life independently. Now she participates in bowling, basketball, swimming and track and field, and she’s working hard to qualify for the 2026 Special Olympics USA Games. We can’t wait to see what’s next!

Adam: A champion with many hats

For nearly two decades, Adam has been unwavering in his commitment to Special Olympics Minnesota. As a coach, board member, Head of Delegation, Unified partner, Polar Plunger, volunteer, corporate advocate and father to a Special Olympics athlete, he has been an outstanding example of what it means to be a champion of inclusion.

John: “It’s about knowing we are making a difference.”

John has coached basketball, flag football, soccer, and track and field. He loves many things about coaching, especially prioritizing teamwork and positivity on his teams.

The Blast: A Unified family

Special Olympics is about more than just competition for the Blast. It’s about the community. And the concept of family is so important to the Blast that it’s baked into just about everything they do.

Sydney: Special Olympics Minnesota is her “happy place”

Sydney, now 23, has competed for Special Olympics Minnesota since she was 14 years old. “I just love it. Special Olympics makes me happy. I get to see so many of my friends and make new ones. It’s a very positive place for me.”

Danny, Mara and Jaran: Student athletes and champions of inclusion

High school students from across the state are leading the Unified movement in their schools and community. But inclusion doesn’t stop after high school, and many of our incredible student leaders continue their work in college. Here are just a few of their stories.

Park: “A sense of belonging”

In the past 2 years, Park has been featured on multiple television news programs and had a story written about him in the Buffalo newspaper. The local ice arena hosted a “Park Gilmer night,” and most recently, he sang “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with his Buffalo Stampede teammates at a Minnesota Twins game.  

Tiffany: From supporter to star athlete

Competing at World Games is the dream of a lifetime for Tiffany, one that she has been working for years to achieve. She will represent Special Olympics USA in artistic gymnastics alongside five other athletes from across the country. 

Jackie Stoffel: “There’s a lot more high-fives and smiles”

Jackie has been teaching at Bemidji High School for eight years and has been in the Bemidji School District for 12 years. About six years ago, Unified Sports sparked the Unified Champion Schools program in Bemidji. Now, the Bemidji School District participates in all sports offered in Northern Minnesota, including their newest addition.

Amber & Tasha: Sisters, teammates and best friends

Amber and Tasha Feigh started competing with Special Olympics Minnesota when they were around 8 years old. Today, the Feigh sisters, 31 and 26 respectively, have been involved with Special Olympics for over two decades. They can be found at SOMN events year-round doing the thing they love most: cheering for and supporting each other in their favorite sports.

Rylynn & Thomas: Inclusion is a lifelong mindset for this Unified pair from Stillwater

Thomas Blair and Rylynn Zannon, seniors at Stillwater Area High School and members of the Special Olympics Minnesota Student Board of Directors, see inclusion in action every day, thanks to the presence of Unified programming at their school. 

Ian Leonard: Shining the spotlight on the Special Olympics community

If you’ve been to a Polar Plunge or a Special Olympics Minnesota competition, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ve seen a familiar face from the local news. Ian Leonard, Chief Meteorologist for FOX 9, has been involved with Special Olympics for the greater part of his career, and has supported the mission in Minnesota for over 15 years.

Fred Sobottka: Freezing moments in time for Special Olympics Minnesota

While some Minnesotans dream of flying south for the winter, photographer Fred Sobottka can’t wait for the freezing temperatures. For the past 10 years, he has volunteered at the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics Minnesota and captured the unique emotions that people experience when jumping into a frigid lake.

Austin: Finding 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.



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

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.

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!


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.


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.

Thank you to our incredible video partner, Don’t Blink, for helping us share stories about the amazing SOMN community!