It all began in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw how unjustly and unfairly people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She also saw that many children with intellectual disabilities did not have a place to play. She decided to take action.

Soon, Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision began to take shape. She held a summer day camp for young people with intellectual disabilities in her own backyard. The goal was to learn what these children could do in sports and other activities – and not dwell on what they could not do.

Special Olympics New Jersey History

This now global movement was given wings by individuals who sought to expand Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s vision into their own backyard. Individuals like Bessie Cutter Perlman, who, after retiring from teaching at The School for the Deaf in Trenton, started sports programming for individuals with intellectual disabilities at the Johnstone Training Center in the late 1960’s. Concurrently, Al Slootsky and Anthony Infante, both special education teachers, were setting up similar programs for swimmers and runners in Bayonne, NJ.

Formal programming in NJ began in 1969, when six participants from the Bayonne Recreation Department and twelve participants from the E.R. Johnstone Training Center in Bordentown, represented NJ at the Eastern Regional Special Olympics at the University of Maryland.  It was evident after that event that much improvement was needed.   The athletes from the Garden State had few uniforms, little equipment and their training was lacking.

Fast forward fifty years and you will find that New Jersey has become one of the premier Special Olympics programs in the world and a leader in the Unified Sports® and Young Athletes™ programs, as well as our own Camp Shriver, that takes place each Summer.

A Remarkable Milestone

50 Years Changing the Game Logo

In 2018, Special Olympics New Jersey will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Through the power of sport, Special Olympics New Jersey has changed the lives and hopes of thousands of individuals with intellectual disabilities throughout New Jersey, as well as their families and the communities in which they live.

Support the Future

As we celebrate the past fifty years of Special Olympics history in New Jersey, we also look forward to a future of inspiration and inclusion through Special Olympics programming. As part of this celebration we will be hosting a variety of 50th anniversary activities and opportunities for this remarkable milestone.

  • Champions Reception – Reception and concert featuring the original “Jersey Boy,” Frankie Valli on April 5, 2018 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
  • Change the Game Day – On July 20, 2018, the SONJ Sports Complex, in Lawrenceville hosted a day of everything unified, as well as a commemorative reception to celebrate the past 50 years of Special Olympics New Jersey.
  • Buy a Brick Campaign – Individuals and groups can help pave the way for future programming by purchasing a brick on the Sean Nelligan Foundation Tribute Patio.
  • Event Dedication Opportunity– Individuals can dedicate their 2018 event in honor of Special Olympics New Jersey’s 50th anniversary.
  • Support Our Future Campaign – So every eligible individual in the Garden State can have the chance to be empowered, as well as empower others through sports.

Contact Us

For information on participating in our 50th anniversary celebration, contact us at 50years@sonj.org.