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.
The Special Olympics Movement
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."