Special Olympics Programs Making a Difference in Illinois Schools for All Students


In July, Special Olympics celebrated the 45th anniversary of the first Special Olympics games for children with intellectual disabilities that took place at Chicago’s Soldier Field. This fall, thousands of students in Illinois are enjoying the fruits of the program by being involved in individual and team sports through their schools – including elementary, middle and high schools. 

Special Olympics Illinois offers training and competition in 19 summer and winter sports. Competition takes place first at the local Area level for most sports and athletes have an opportunity to advance to district or state competition. A component that’s essential before training begins is to find a willing individual to become the Special Olympics Athletic Director (SOAD) for a group, team or even individual (independent) athlete.  A sports background isn’t necessary since Special Olympics Illinois can train the trainer.

A Special Olympics program got started at Wauconda High School several years ago because a service employee knew how well Special Olympics worked at her previous school and decided that the Special Education students at Wauconda would really benefit from the program. She became the SOAD, filled out the paperwork required for each sport, recruited some others to help and rallied the community to support the team. It was a success not only for the students who became Special Olympics athletes, but for the school and town as a whole when the team became the source of school spirit and community pride.

Special Olympics training develops sports skills, discipline and team work that help students with intellectual disabilities do better in school, at home and in the community. Special Olympics has additional leadership programs and initiatives that benefit schools as a whole and bring together students with and without disabilities, creating a more tolerant and welcoming environment for all students. Schools can be involved in:

  • The traditional Special Olympics program (for individuals with intellectual disabilities ages 8 and older)
  • Project Unify – Youth leadership/anti-bullying campaign
  • Spread the Word to End the Word (retard) activities
  • Special Olympics Unified Sports (for students with and without disabilities)
  • Hosting a Special Olympics event

Superintendent Prentiss Lea believes that Special Olympics is making a difference in his district. He said, “The entire Community High School District 128 family is extremely proud of our Special Olympics participants and Special Olympics program. The pride and excitement shown by our athletes, as well as the coaches and volunteers, goes beyond words. We love to celebrate their efforts and successes, and could not imagine our district without the program and the opportunities for varied experiences and growth for our athletes and everyone touched by the program.”

For information on how you can start a Special Olympics program or activity in your school, contact Jennifer Marcello at 630-942-5610.