1969 - The First Summer Games
Ed Arnold was one of the founding board members for Special Olympics Southern California, representing the California Jaycees. Below is an article for the Jaycees' newsletter that he wrote in 1969 about the first Summer Games, held at USC.
First Annual Summer Games a Huge Success
By Ed Arnold, State Chairman Health & Safety - July 1969
One of the most meaningful projects ever conducted by the California Jaycees came to an end Saturday, July 26, with the presentation of the First Annual Western Regional Special Olympics. The goal of the project was to create opportunities for sports training and competition for retarded children. It did just that --and plenty more!
To see the face of a child that has never seen success of any kind all of a sudden a champion. A winner. To witness a contestant throwing a softball that he had no idea he could throw, until the Special Olympics became a reality. To see an Olympic great like Rafer Johnson award a medal to a youngster and then the look on Rafer’s face. This was our Special Olympics. To receive reports three and four days after the events of a child still wearing the medal he or she won at the Olympics...the first thing ever won by the child. To remember the morning after the events, of these retarded children and adults, who had won, still wearing their medals. Most had never removed them when sleep finally moved in on their excitement. This was our Special Olympics. To watch the interest and pride of the volunteers (Red Cross Youths) as they became more attached to the children during the day. To see Don Landes, Executive Director, and his very fine staff as they conducted the events. The look of a parent who had journeyed all the way from Hawaii to see her child perform. This was our Special Olympics.
This was an event that can be termed only as a fantastic success. If you want to help yourself, get involved with a project such as this. You’ll be helping kids who, up until now, have never known success of any kind. But most of all you’ll have a feeling that cannot be described…a beautiful feeling, one of pride at what these kids try to do.
Most of the children and their escorts began arriving Friday, July 25, at the University of Southern California where they were housed for the weekend. Groups came from all over California, from Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and Hawaii.
The kids were up early Saturday morning all prepared for a full day. After a good breakfast the task of getting all participants registered began.
The first event of the day was the softball throw. The events afterwards included the 50 yard dash, the broad jump, 300 yard dash, and in swimming the 25 and 50 yard swim.
All of us have seen track meets either in person or on television, but to see these great competitors…what a treat! They were all sensational!
The Opening Ceremonies included a parade that was a second to none. Mort Polak of the California Jaycees did a job and a half in handling this particular part of the Special Olympics. There were bands, drill teams, clowns, the participants marching in their particular groups joined by some of the greatest of the Olympians from today and yesterday, and also joined by some top stars from the entertainment world. The parade had equestrian units that were outstanding. There really was nothing lacking. And the kids…they loved every minute of it. Following the parade, a young contestant, Margaret Grimsley from Terra Bella, sang the National Anthem.
Arnold Laub, President of the California Jaycees, welcomed the participants and their groups telling the children how proud the Jaycees are of them and their participation.
Dr. Frank J. Hayden from The Kennedy Foundation followed with a message aimed primarily to the kids themselves. Dr. Hayden who serves on the Board of Directors of Special Olympics, Inc., had flown into Los Angeles from Washington D.C., just for the Special Olympics.
After Dr. Hayden’s address, Don Grady, star of the television show “My Three Sons,” and the Western Regional Head Coach, read a telegram from Eunice Shriver Kennedy that told of her thrill at what was taking place. Don then thanked the kids for the opportunity of assisting them.
Next came one of the highlights, the arrival of the Olympic Torch that had been lit by Governor Ronald Reagan on Tuesday, July 22, on the steps of the State House in Sacramento. The torch, carried by a participant from the San Francisco Bay area, Bruce Henderson, had made the long journey from Sacramento to the Los Angeles Coliseum. With the lighting of the torch, one of the world’s all time great athletes, Rafer Johnson, former gold medal winner in the decathlon, led the kids in the Olympic Oath.
The conclusion of the oath meant the return to action, and that’s exactly what happened. The rest of the day saw numerous events concluded with medals being awarded in a special awards area. The medals were for the first three places, just as the regular Olympics; gold for first, silver for second and bronze for third. Each child also received a participants medal.
The awards presentations, even with so many events going constantly, ran smoothly for the most part. The entertainers and sports celebrities present for the Special Olympics made the awards. These included Rafer Johnson, Parry O’Brien, Olga Connelly, Caroline House, Joe Wehrly, Craig Dixon, and many other Olympic greats. Also, on hand were several television stars including Don Grady, John Lupton, Mike Farrell, Heather North, and Mick Dodd.
To give you an idea as to how involved some of these great stars got: John Lupton and Mike Farrell indicated when they arrived just before 9:00 A.M. that this kind of thing was new to them and they didn’t know how long they would last. We finally had to tell John to ease up and Mike Farrell was still with us at the very end. As a matter of fact, at the Fiesta after the long day’s events, Mike Farrell was still going strong. He gave so much happiness to so many kids. Over 12 hours after arriving he was still giving this love and happiness. You want to know his reaction…“They’re so great, I hope I’ve helped some”…
After the events of the day, a Fiesta with food and entertainment was presented at Bovard Field on the USC campus. This was the very first time many of these children had been a part of something like this also. The entertainment was in the fiesta spirit and featured dancing by the Debonaire School. The kids loved it.
At long last a day that had been the most rewarding in so many lives neared an end. Most of the kids still wide awake with excitement, the adults just as awake, were not about to let the day end. Slowly they all began to wind things up. Most still wearing those precious medals, those medals that said “Look I can succeed, I can do something.” Sleep was long in coming, but it took its toll eventually.
Sunday morning saw the departure. For those so closely associated with the Special Olympics it was the conclusion of many months of preparation. The end of something wonderful.
For the kids…who knows what was running through those minds. Retarded children? No, Special Children. Children who’ve discovered that someone cares, and cares very much.
California Jaycees…thank you for this First Annual Western Regional Olympics. The Kennedy Foundation…thank you for the opportunity and for caring. Don Landes, your hard working devoted staff who went many nights with little sleep, and many days with little help…a very special thanks to you.
For the organizations who worked so hard in putting the Special Olympics together, thank you. These include The American Red Cross and a bunch of outstanding kids who volunteered to help on the day of the event, California Council for Retarded Children, Los Angeles City and County Parks and Recreation Departments, Long Beach Jaycees, and the Southern California Olympians, and most of all, the Jaycees and other groups who conducted the state and area programs leading up to the big day.
And now the biggest thank you of all…to over 1000 marvelous kids who ran and swam their hearts out. Thank you not only for participating, but most of all thank you for letting us share some of that love you have s much of. I don’t know of anyone who participated in the Special Olympics that doesn’t echo those sentiments.
Until next year…
State Chairman Health & Safety
Special Olympics Announcer