50 Years of Special Olympics

The Special Olympics celebrates its 50th anniversary this summer here in Chicago. From July 17 to July 21, the international sporting event for people with intellectual disabilities returns to the Windy City, where it was born in the Chicago Park District in 1968.

In 1965, a young park district employee named Anne Burke began teaching athletic courses to children with intellectual disabilities. Burke would eventually become an Illinois Supreme Court justice, but at the time, her work with and advocacy for people with disabilities ended up fostering a partnership between the park district and Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Kennedy Foundation to fund programs and, ultimately, competitions for athletes with intellectual disabilities.

The Kennedy Foundation went on to administer the Special Olympics in subsequent years, but the park district continued to develop its programming for people with disabilities. The park district has consistently hosted local and state level sporting events for Special Olympians of all ages. And Chicago, with Chicago Park District as a leading partner, has hosted several other international Special Olympic events, including the second Games in 1970.

Take a look at our photo gallery of Special Olympics athletes competing at park district locations throughout the years. And visit Special Collections to see even more Chicago Park District photographs of Special Olympics events. You can also learn more about the 1968 Special Olympics on the Special Olympics website.