The Special Olympics: Background information when reading Ginny Moon

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Ginny Moon

by Benjamin Ludwig

Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig X
Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig
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  • First Published:
    May 2017, 368 pages

    Paperback:
    Dec 2017, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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The Special Olympics

This article relates to Ginny Moon

Print Review

In Ginny Moon, the protagonist's participation in the Special Olympics plays an important part in the storyline.

Special Olympics LogoThe Special Olympics is the world's largest sports organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities. From its modest start as a summer camp in 1962, the Special Olympics now offers competition in more than 30 different sports with over 100,000 events organized annually across the world.  Like other Olympic athletes, participants start with local competitions and work their way up to regionals and nationals before competing at the international level. The Summer and Winter games alternate every two years ("odd" years, so as not to conflict with the Olympic Games that are held in "even" years). Almost five million athletes from 172 countries participated in events during 2015 with 6,500 taking part in the World Summer Games held in Los Angeles.  Although sometimes confused with each other, the Special Olympics are entirely separate from the Paralympics which take place immediately after the Olympics and are generally for adult athletes with physical disabilities.

The Special Olympics' existence is widely credited to the efforts of Eunice Kennedy Shriver (1921-2009), the fifth child of Joseph and Rose Kennedy and sister to President John F. Kennedy. Eunice's elder sister Rosemary (1918-2005) was deprived of oxygen during birth, resulting in delayed intellectual development. In an effort to address behavioral issues, her father arranged for the 23-year-old Rosemary to be one of the first to receive a prefrontal lobotomy, which left her permanently incapacitated. 

In 1946, the family started the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation in memory of their eldest son killed in World War II. The Foundation's objectives were to seek the prevention of intellectual disability by identifying its causes, and to improve the means by which society deals with citizens who have intellectual disabilities. Eunice took over the Foundation's leadership in 1957 - the start of a long career as an advocate. Under the aegis of her presidential brother she created the Panel on Mental Retardation in 1961 and is credited with launching the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development a year later.

In 1962, Shriver began a children's summer day camp at her farm in Maryland. Dubbed "Camp Shriver," the program invited 34 special-needs children as well as 26 high school- and college-age volunteer counsellors to attend, free of charge, where they participated in sports activities such as soccer, basketball and horseback riding. In addition to simply providing a summer camp experience for the young participants (who were denied acceptance in "regular" programs due to their disabilities), Camp Shriver also helped the teenage counsellors understand that the campers weren't unteachable or "difficult," but just wanted to have fun like every other kid. 

The first true Special Olympics was the brainchild of physical education teacher Anne McGlone Burke who proposed a one-time Olympic-style event for those with intellectual disabilities. She contacted Shriver for her support.  Shriver loved the idea and not only provided funding via the Kennedy Foundation but became the primary organizer.  The first International Summer Games opened at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, in 1968. Over 1,000 athletes from the United States and Canada participated in the inaugural games in sports including Track and Field, Swimming and Floor Hockey. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the inaugural games there will be a special event in Chicago in 2018.

The Games were an immediate success, sparking annual events across the United States and ultimately worldwide.  In the 1980s, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) formally recognized the Special Olympics and allowed them legally to use the name "Olympics." In 1991, the World Summer Games became the focus of a two-hour ABC special broadcast, which included the Opening Ceremony before a crowd of 60,000 and a live performance by Prince. In 2015, for the first time, ESPN devoted full Olympic-style coverage to the Summer Special Olympics. The first Special Olympics to take place in the Middle East is scheduled to open in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

Filed under People, Eras & Events

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to Ginny Moon. It originally ran in December 2017 and has been updated for the December 2017 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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