Villanova University traces its Special Olympics roots back to 1979, when it played host to regional events, including the Eastern State Soccer Tournament. In 1989, the soccer tournament welcomed the addition of roller skating, volleyball, long distance running/walking, and equestrian to hold the first Fall Festival in the university's history. The Festival quickly became a well-publicized and popular campus event that was run by a student-only committee. As the Festival grew, so did the committee, and soon the event was coined as the largest annual student-run Special Olympics event in the world.
Today, with support from the university, SOPA, and the surrounding community, the event has grown to welcome over 1,000 athletes, 400 coaches, and 4,000 volunteers, holding competitions in bocce, long distance running/walking, powerlifting, roller skating, soccer, and volleyball. In addition to the competitive sporting events offered every year, the Fall Festival has grown to incorporate a variety of auxiliary activities, including elaborate opening & closing ceremonies, the celebratory Victory Dance, Healthy Athlete clinician screenings, an enormous Olympic Town, and a diverse collection of performers and musicians, all at no cost to the athletes.
To provide these services and amenities for the athletes, the Villanova Special Olympics Committee relies on fundraising and donations, much of which stems from the annual STRIDES 5k race held on campus.
In past years, Villanova University has also hosted the 2006 National Games Training Camp and the 2007 World Summer Games Athlete Send-Off. In 2009, Villanova became involved in the national "Spread the Word to End the Word" campaign, which seeks to stop the derogatory use of the word "retard." Also, in 2009, the university was honored with the Chairman's Choice Award from the Special Olympics Pennsylvania Hall of Fame.
Mission: Special Olympics is an international organization dedicated to empowering individuals with intellectual disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition. Special Olympics offers children and adults with intellectual disabilities year-round training and competition in 26 Olympic-type summer and winter sports.
Scope: Special Olympics currently serves more than 2.5 million persons with intellectual disabilities in more than 200 programs in more than 180 countries. Children and adults with intellectual disabilities who participate in Special Olympics develop improved physical fitness and motor skills, greater self-confidence and a more positive self-image. They grow mentally, socially and spiritually and, through their activities, exhibit boundless courage and enthusiasm, enjoy the rewards of friendship and ultimately discover not only new abilities and talents but "their voices" as well.
Sergeant Shriver, former Chairman of the Board of Special Olympics International, may have best described Special Olympics when he wrote that the organization is unique and important because of the ways in which it inspires and reveals the very best in human nature. "It has become," he wrote, "one of the most encouraging and profound developments in modern sports."
The goal of this movement is two-fold:
● To bring intellectual disabilities out of the
darkness and into the light of public
acceptance and understanding.
● To give all persons with an intellectual
disability the opportunity to become
useful and productive citizens who are
accepted and respected in their
The spirit of Special Olympics -- skill, courage, sharing, and joy -- incorporates universal values that transcend all boundaries of geography, nationality, political philosophy, gender, age, race, or religion.
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“The Special Olympics Pennsylvania Fall Festival is unlike any other event at Villanova. With great reason, athletes, volunteers, and students alike regularly remark that Fall Festival is their favorite weekend of the year. Nothing else unites our campus with as much enthusiasm, and nothing makes Villanova as wonderful as experiencing the athletes’ excitement, sportsmanship, and joy.”
–Paul Insley, ’14
2013 Director of Competition