Special Olympics at Brockport

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"In Special Olympics it is not the strongest body or the most dazzling mind that counts. It is the invincible spirit which overcomes all handicaps. For without this spirit winning medals is empty. But with it, there is no defeat." -Eunice Kennedy Shriver

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During the summer of 1979, the State University of New York, College at Brockport was honored to be chosen to host the fifth International Special Olympics Games. Brockport had been an avid supporter of the Special Olympics, having served as the host site for the 1975 and 1976 New York State Special Olympics games.

"The Special Olympics is an international program of physical fitness, sports training and athletic competition for mentally retarded children and adults. Mentally retarded individuals Eight years or older are eligible to participate in the Special Olympics. Generally, participants have IQ scores of 75 or less. There are twelve official sports in the Special Olympics. They include: track and field, swimming, diving, gymnastics, ice skating, basketball, volleyball, floor hockey, poly hockey, bowling, Frisbee disk, and wheelchair events." (1979 International Special Olympics Resource Book)

More than 3,500 mentally challenged individuals, ranging in age from 10 to 80, who qualified for participation in Special Olympic activities gathered in Brockport for the International Games. They came from each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and more than 30 other countries and took part in a week long spectacular of competitions, social events, dances, clinics, demonstrations, and a marvelous Adventure Day Trip to Niagara Falls.

Schedule of Events

Tuesday, August 7 – Advance party arrives

Wednesday, August 8 – Delegations from foreign countries arrive

Thursday, August 9 – United States delegations arrive

Opening Ceremonies in the Olympic Tradition 6:30 p.m.

Festive Carnival and fireworks display 7:30 p.m.

Friday, August 10 – Competition in Special Olympics official sports 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Teaching Clinics

Variety Show, featuring Special Olympians and celebrities

Saturday, August 11 – Competition in Special Olympics official sports 8 a.m. –

4:30 p.m.

Teaching Clinics

Closing Ceremonies

Victory Dance

Sunday, August 12 – Adventure Day at Niagara Falls

Monday, August 13 - Departures

Some Famous Supporters

Julius Erving – Basketball

Mrs. Jimmy Carter – Honorary Chair Person

Frank Gifford – Assistant Head Coach

Pele – Soccer

Wilma Rudolph – Track and Field

Other such celebrities as Phil Donahue, Marlo Thomas, Sally Struthers, Susan St. James, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christopher Reeve and the Kennedy Family attended. Famous athletes Muhammad Ali, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Rafer Johnson, and Hank Aaron participated in the special events. It was estimated that between 45 and 50 celebrities participated in the Brockport Special Olympics.

History of the Special Olympics

The first Special Olympics Games were held in the summer of 1968, when one thousand mentally challenged children from all over America traveled to Soldier Field in Chicago to take part in what was then a daring experiment.

In 1978, then 10 years later, there were year-round Special Olympics programs in 93% of the counties in every state, in every province in Canada and in over 20 countries throughout the world.

Adventure Day -- Sunday, August 12, 1979

On Sunday, all 3,500 athletes and their chaperones visited scenic points in Niagara Falls, to view one of the wonders of the world. The planners of this event had their work cut out for them: how would they transport thousands of people, hundreds of miles, in the tourist season? The kindness of people persevered to make this event possible.

Golden Arrow Line, Inc. of Rochester donated 99 buses. The Kennedy Foundation picked up the tab for the gasoline and thruway tolls necessary for the trip. Four hundred volunteers helped load and unload the buses, three hundred of which were uniformed members of the 914th Air Force Reserve, and the rest came from the New York Telephone Pioneers Club.

To keep themselves organized, the buses were divided into four waves, and then were color-coded. The caravans of red, orange, blue, and green-waved buses made the escorting service of the State Police a little easier. The buses then parked in the closed section of the Moses Parkway near Prospect Point.

The Special Olympians thoroughly enjoyed their trip, taking pictures of everything and everyone they saw. "I like New York. It’s just as pretty as Arkansas," said Bill Kimmer, 34, an Arkansas native who took second in bowling during the games at Brockport.

"That’s a lot of water," remarked one athlete from Ohio, as he pensively walked up to the railing. "So this is Niagara Falls, huh? Nice."

The Special Olympics would not have proceeded in Brockport without the help of a multitude of generous people. The Democrat and Chronicle reported that over 4,000 local individuals volunteered their time to help out at events during this special occurrence. They were responsible for many tasks such as serving food in the cafeterias, cleaning up the grounds, directing chaperones around the campus, decorating and a variety of other necessary chores.

Some volunteers had the special duty of being "huggers," which is a unique feature to the Special Olympics. Volunteers stand at the finish line and wait for a particular athlete to complete his/her event. Regardless of how or if that athlete finishes, he/she is greeted with a huge bear hug, letting the athletes know what a fantastic job they just completed.

The newspaper asked volunteers why they chose to help, and they received several warm responses. Janet Malone of East Bloomfield said, " I have four children and a grandchild and they’re all healthy. I figured I’d volunteer my time for the less fortunate."

Shirley Torrelli and her family traveled across the county from Webster to help out the Special Olympians because " we’ve heard so many wonderful things about them."

Volunteers and Local Support

The Democrat and Chronicle reported on August 8, 1979, about a story of the lengths to which a local man went so a foreign delegation could arrive on time: "A postal strike in Ireland was playing havoc with communication between Brockport and the Irish delegation earlier this summer. When (Jim) Branigan, a Dublin native, heard a talk about the Olympics at a Kendall Lions Club Meeting, he volunteered his services.

He sent the mail to his brother-in-law, who works as a food-service purser on a cross-channel boat between Liverpool and Dublin. The brother-in-law took them to a nephew of Branigan, who took them to a Dublin friend, who then took them to the treasurer of the Irish Special Olympics.

‘That was the only way to do it,’ he said. It worked five times."

The article continued saying that unfortunately, the forms were not mailed back to Branigan, and instead were sent through Northern Ireland, where there was no strike. The package never arrived to United States officials, however. This may have been because of a clog in England where bulky packages are suspect of containing bombs. Branigan has repeatedly tried to contact the Irish; regardless, the Irish athletes will still be able to participate in the games.

Post-Olympic Events

On October 8, 1982 the Brockport Post reported that SUNY Brockport held a dedication ceremony for the college’s new Special Olympics Park. Seven local Special Olympics participants unveiled two new monuments that greet guests upon entering the park. Special Olympics Park was planned by senior groundsman William Minoia as a setting for the bronze sculpture and fountain created by Zurab Tsereteli for the purposes of celebrating the Special Olympics.

Last Updated 2/13/18

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