The first International Special Olympics Games was held in 1968 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois. However, the concept began to unfold six years earlier at a place called Camp Shriver, a day camp started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1962 focusing on physical activity for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Sponsored by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., Foundation, the number of camps grew to 32 sites across the United States and served over 10,000 children with intellectual disabilities. Workshops were created across the country to educate recreation directors of the benefits of recreational activity for individuals with intellectual disabilities. By 1967, Anne Burke, a workshop teacher, along with Dr. William Freeburg, the Chairman of Recreation and Outdoor Education Department at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Illinois, teamed up with Shriver and the Kennedy Foundation to host the first ever International Special Olympics Games where over 1,000 athletes from the United States and Canada competed. Today, Special Olympics serves more than 2.8 million people with intellectual disabilities in over 200 programs in 180 countries worldwide.
The mission of the Special Olympics is to provide year-round training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic type sports to children and adults with intellectual disabilities in order 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.
The Games will bring an estimated $5-7 million dollar economic boost to the area during a winter when the national economy is expected to negatively impact the tourism season.