By Dave Dorn, President and CEO of Special Olympics 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.
It’s impossible for me to choose one, or even a handful of favorite moments from my time with the organization, but what means the most to me are the connections I’ve made with athletes, coaches, volunteers, staff and supporters.
Over the years, I’ve had a blast meeting and forming relationships with the amazing athletes who make up our organization. Whether it’s at a big event or a smaller, local competition, I love hearing athletes’ stories and learning why they love Special Olympics Minnesota: the sports, the friendships, the community…this organization has provided life-changing inclusion for so many people over the years.
In the past 50 years, Special Olympics’ mission has grown in incredible ways, across the globe and here in Minnesota.
In July of 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 a ton of Unified sport options: bowling, softball, basketball, golf, snowshoeing—Unified sports is taking our state by storm!
In 1991, the Special Olympics World Games were held right here in Minnesota. 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 healthcare 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 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!
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, we will make life better for people with intellectual disabilities. Through inclusive healthcare initiatives, Young Athletes programming and Unified Champion Schools efforts, we will tackle exclusion and prejudice, and make sure individuals with intellectual disabilities in Minnesota are happy, healthy, and included.
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.
We need you to be a part of the next 50 years! If you’ve never been involved with Special Olympics Minnesota, now is the time. There’s a place for everyone no matter your interests, skills or location. We would love to have you be a part of our movement in 2023 and beyond.
If you’re already a part of Special Olympics Minnesota, thank you for making the last five decades such a pleasure. I’m incredibly proud of our community. We are one big team, and I know we can achieve huge things in the years to come.
Bring your creativity to the table over the next 50 – the sky is the limit for the Inclusion Revolution. Here’s to the next 50 years!