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From our files: The legacy of Eunice Kennedy Shriver – A short history of the Special Olympics

Where no anthems play, the world's foremost feel-good sports festival attracts athletes from around the world

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From the July 7, 1995 issue of The Christian Science Monitor

LATE one afternoon, with the ninth Special Olympics World Games in full swing on Yale University's sprawling sports complex, a small but vocal cheering section from Kentucky is approached for a few comments after a Kentucky-vs.-Zimbabwe soccer game.

These parents have seen their children join the 7,200 athletes medically diagnosed as mentally retarded from 140 countries who have gathered here for perhaps the world's foremost feel-good sports festival. At these Olympics, every athlete is encouraged, no national anthems are played, no drug tests are administered, everyone goes home with a ribbon or medal, and hugs and high-fives are the dominant language.

What do their children gain from Special Olympics, these Kentucky rooters are asked. ''Most of them have no social life outside an activity like this,'' one mother replies. ''This is where they develop friendships.''

Another parent is thrilled to report that two of the players on the coed squad attended their high school prom together.

''Seeing them happy, seeing their younger brother jealous'' is the payoff for another beaming mother, who says this is a chance for these youngsters to shine.

The Kentucky players were given a police escort to the airport, with a few sirens to clear fans at the start of their journey.

Earl Sullivan, a factory materials coordinator and volunteer softball coach with players on the soccer team, wouldn't have missed any of this, he says, even though he has no children participating. His involvement in Special Olympics is the most rewarding thing he's ever done: ''They know you're there to help them,'' he says of the young athletes in his charge.


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