Special Olympics anniversary to celebrate 'Joy of Inclusion'

The Indiana Special Olympics launches a special celebration today — the 50th anniversary of its founding.

Not only is it a noteworthy milestone for the organization, which is part of the global Special Olympics movement, but also for Terre Haute. The statewide organization was founded in June of 1969 at Indiana State University by two professors — Dr. Tom Songster and Dr. Judy Campbell — who wanted to help expand opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities through sports programming.

Indiana Special Olympics' state headquarters was at ISU in Terre Haute for almost half its life before moving to Indianapolis. But the summer games, the largest annual event the organization sponsors, has remained here.

The 50th anniversary event begins today at 7:30 p.m. with the opening ceremonies and march of athletes in Hulman Center. Competition will then go on Saturday and Sunday on the campuses of ISU and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Indiana Special Olympics officials have been gearing up for the event for months and expect to set a record in both participation and attendance. There should be more than 3,000 athletes on hand representing all 92 Indiana counties, 1,000 volunteer coaches and at least 8,000 friends, mentors, teachers, co-workers and supporters.

Terre Haute has continued to embrace this remarkable event through the years. And there's no doubt it has received much back in return. David Patterson, executive director of the Terre Haute Convention & Visitors Bureau, told us recently that he estimates the June event generates at least $1 million in economic impact for the community each year.

The Indiana Special Olympics features three days of competition in eight Olympic-type sports: bowling, cycling, track and field, bocce, horseshoes, swimming, power-lifting and volleyball.

This year's event theme is "Joy of Inclusion," a phrase officials say highlights the true spirit of the Special Olympics and its efforts to break down barriers of discrimination and injustice against people with intellectual disabilities.

Indiana State University and Terre Haute can be proud of their important link to Indiana Special Olympics and its important mission.

We join the community in welcoming the athletes, and everyone else associated with the event, to Terre Haute this weekend. Be assured that ISU and Terre Haute will always be there to cheer you on, in sports and in life.