Eunice Kennedy Shriver started the concept of Special Olympics in 1963 as a day camp for people with intellectual disabilities to provide them with the therapeutic effects of physical fitness and sports. In 1968, she organized the first International Special Olympics Games, where 1,000 athletes from the United States, Canada and France competed. That year, Special Olympics was founded as a nonprofit organization.
The first Annual Western Regional Special Olympics was held on July 26, 1969 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Nine hundred athletes from Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah participated in the softball throw, the 50 and 300-yard dash and 25 and 50-yard swim. With the success of this event, each western state began to formulate plans to organize its own chapter program, and the California Chapter was formed, co-founded by Olympic Gold Medalist, Rafer Johnson. In the following years, the program was expanded to include opportunities for training, a multi-level competition structure and year-round programming.
In an historic move on July 1, 1995, California Special Olympics was divided into two separately incorporated Chapters -- Special Olympics Southern California and Special Olympics Northern California. This division was a first in the history of the Special Olympics movement. The change afforded each new California Chapter a dramatic opportunity to greatly expand outreach efforts. The Southern California Chapter is bounded by San Luis Obispo, Kern and Inyo Counties in the north, and the U.S./Mexico border in the south.
An interview with Founder Rafer Johnson
The First Summer Games - 1969
Special Olympics Southern California Milestones