Thursday, May 30, 2013

The First Special Olympics Michigan State Summer Games

by Bryan Whitledge

This year marks forty years since the first Special Olympics Michigan State Summer Games. Since 1973, thousands of athletes, spectators, and volunteers have met on the CMU campus each year for the competition. During Disability Awareness Month, in October, the Clarke posted a blog about the four-decades-long relationship between Special Olympics and Central Michigan University. With the Summer State Games coming to town May 30 - June 1 of this year, we thought it would be apt to reflect on the first State Games held June 1-2, 1973.

After CMU was chosen as the headquarters for Special Olympics Michigan in October of 1972, work began on planning for the State Games to be held just eight months later. An advisory committee was established in November 1972 to "counsel on all matters pertaining to Special Olympics." The committee consisted of members of the CMU and Mount Pleasant communities as well as individuals from across the State.

Because there was no Special Olympics organization at the state-level in Michigan prior to this, one of the first orders of business was figuring out how the games would be administered. It was decided that the State would be broken down into 21 regions and athletes would need to qualify for the State Games via regional competitions.

Another step in the organization of the State Games was recruiting volunteers. In order to accommodate the thousands of athletes and spectators that were expected for the June events, calls for volunteers were frequent in the spring of 1973. The largest pool of volunteers were CMU students. Several volunteer drives were held on campus and the Central Michigan Life student newspaper featured advertisements and stories about the need for participation from the students. In the end, over 200 volunteers helped out.

Thanks to all of the organizers, volunteers, athletes, and supporters, the first State Summer Games in 1973 were a success. The Games featured events in track and field, archery, bowling, dancing, and gymnastics.  Over 1,600 athletes participated. The following years would see an increase in the number of participants, spectators, and volunteers. Forty years on, Special Olympics is a true CMU tradition. Fire Up! to all the athletes, volunteers, organizers, and supporters who will be coming to Mount Pleasant this weekend.