skip to Main Content


Soon after President John F. Kennedy took office in 1961, his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, launched a crusade to change the way the world treated — or ignored — mental retardation. This program gained credence as the Kennedy’s disclosed that one of their own, Rosemary Kennedy, had mental retardation.

The genesis of Special Olympics was a summer day camp that Sargent and Eunice Shriver started in the backyard of their Maryland home. In July 1968, the world witnessed the first International Special Olympics Games at Soldier Field in Chicago. In December of that year, the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation incorporated Special Olympics. Since then, Special Olympics has grown to become the largest program of its kind.

Throughout the 1960s, Eunice Shriver’s commitment saw not only landmark legislation dealing with mental disabilities and disability rights, but was also instrumental in bringing mental retardation out of the darkness and into the light of public acceptance.

History of Special Olympics Delaware (SODE)

In 1970, Eunice Kennedy Shriver approached the late Bob Marvel, then President of the Wilmington Jaycees, about creating the Delaware Chapter of Special Olympics. With two friends, Vic Murray and Don Bergner, they recruited athletes and volunteers and raised the necessary funds.

The first Special Olympics athletic competition in Delaware was a Track & Field Meet held on June 5, 1971, at the old Wilmington High School. Nearly 100 athletes participated. In attendance were County Councilman Joseph R. Biden, U.S. Rep. Pete Dupont, Gov. Sherman Tribbit, Wilmington Mayor Harry Haskell, and University of Delaware football coach Tubby Raymond.


  • THE 1970s

    Over 400 athletes compete in the sports of aquatics, basketball, bowling, soccer and cross-country running. Lions Clubs of Delaware select SODE as its charity of choice.

  • THE 1980s

    1981 — The first state office opened in the Hudson State Service Center.

    1983 — The Brandywine Social Club started the first adult community-based program.

    1987 — The first Delaware Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics runs into the 1987 Summer Games.

    1989 — The Summer Games are moved permanently to the University of Delaware.

  • THE 1990s

    1992 — The first Lewes Polar Bear Plunge and first Fall Festival take place.

    1994 — Sussex County office opens in Georgetown.

    1995 — SODE office opens on the University of Delaware athletic complex.

    1996 — SODE inducts inaugural Hall of Fame members Barbara and Winnie Spence.

    1999 — Athlete Input Council developed.

  • THE 2000s

    2001 — Healthy Athletes is introduced at Summer Games and the Motor Activity Training Program is launched.

    2005 — SODE chosen to pilot Young Athletes program.

    2006 — SODE attends first Special Olympics U.S. National Games in Ames, Iowa.

    2009 — Project Unify is launched.

  • The 2010s

    2011 — Over the Edge, a 17-story rappel down the side of a skyscraper, makes its debut on the way to becoming a major fundraiser.

    2012 — The organization transitions from dozens of community teams to 5 Area-based programs: Wilmington Wizards, Newark Dragons, MOT Tigers, Kent Crusaders and Sussex Riptide.

    2013 — Unified Track & Field becomes the first Unified Sport recognized by the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association. Unified Flag Football and Unified Basketball would soon follow.

    2017 — The Delaware Memorial Bridge Run to Acceptance becomes the first ever, and only one to date, charity run over the Twin Spans.


With Us!

Special Olympics Delaware

619 South College Ave.

Newark, Delaware 19716

Join the Eblast Mailing List

Back To Top