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.

Learn About SONJ History

A Remarkable Milestone

50 Years Changing the Game Logo

Over the last year, Special Olympics New Jersey has celebrated 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

Now through July of 2019 Special Olympics New Jersey celebrates fifty years of of changing the game and promoting inclusion in the Garden State. Support our future and help us celebrate by Paving the Way for future Special Olympics programming. Individuals and/or groups can leave a permanent legacy or honor a loved one by purchasing a piece of the Sean Nelligan Foundation Tribute Patio.   To learn more about buying a brick, stone or plaque and supporting the future of SONJ click the button below:

Pave the Way & Support SONJ

Contact Us

Questions? contact us at 50years@sonj.org.