Welcome to Special Olympics North Carolina!


Thank you for taking some time to learn more about the Special Olympics movement and the activity here in North Carolina. For those of you viewing this to complete a requirement, a short quiz is located at the end of this presentation.

Please watch all of the videos included in order to see any information. As you finish watching a video, simply click on the X to close it and you will come back to this orientation document.

Let's take a closer look at some of the key parts of our mission:

View this 40-second video about key elements of the mission.

Learn more about intellectual disabilities here.

Philosophy and vision

The philosophy behind the Special Olympics movement is that if individuals with intellectual disabilities can receive appropriate instruction and encouragement, receive consistent and quality training, and compete amongst those with equal abilities, the results can be tremendous. Those results are personal growth, stronger families and united communities, and an environment of equality, respect and acceptance for all.

Our History

Watch this video for a brief overview of how Special Olympics was founded.

Special Olympics North Carolina held its first Games in 1970 with 400 participants and has since grown to be recognized globally as one of the largest Special Olympics programs in the world. Nearly 40,000 children and adults with intellectual disabilities participate in Special Olympics North Carolina.

In a Protocol Agreement signed February 15,1988, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognized Special Olympics, Inc. (SOI) as promoting sporting activities for individuals with an intellectual disability. SOI's recognition by the IOC carries with it the responsibility to conduct Special Olympics training and competitions in accordance with the highest ideals of the international Olympic movement, to protect the use of “Special Olympics” and ‘Olympics” from exploitation and other abuses.

Special Olympics structure

Did you know that nearly every county in the state has an accredited Special Olympics program? Each program is overseen and managed by a local coordinator, who is typically a volunteer. Some local coordinators work for local Parks and Recreation departments while others work for local school systems or are community volunteers.

Sportsmanship is a key component of Special Olympics

Athlete oath:

“Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

Coach oath:

“In the name of all coaches and in the spirit of sportsmanship, I promise that we will act professionally, respect others, and ensure a positive experience for all. I promise to provide quality sports and training opportunities in a safe environment for all athletes.”

How athletes join the movement

Special Olympics training and competition is open to children and adults with an intellectual disability.

• To train and compete in sports, athletes must be age 8 or older; there is no age maximum and we have active athletes in their 60’s and 70’s! Since athletes are of all ages, we never refer to them as "children" or "kids."

• Similar to most other sport organizations, all athletes must have a sports physical known as an Athlete Participation Packet completed by a medical professional and submitted to SONC. These forms must be renewed every three years.

• Children ages 2-7 may participate in Young Athletes which is a motor skills development program and a great lead-up to their future as an athlete. This program is inclusive meaning it is designed for children with and without intellectual disabilities to participate together.

• An athlete can join Special Olympics by contacting the coordinator in their community to learn about sport offerings and completing the athlete participation packet.

An important note to remember is that all of these participants are referred to as athletes. They are not Special Olympians or Olympians. This term is reserved for participants in the Olympics.

Even more importantly is that all Special Olympics programming is provided at no cost to the athletes. Participation is free!

Watch this short video to better learn how to communicate with people with intellectual disabilities.

What makes Special Olympics unique?

Other than having the most incredible athletes, coaches, volunteers and families, Special Olympics has a lot in common with other sports organizations. However, there are five distinct areas that make Special Olympics unique.

Special Olympics Unified Sports®

SONC offers Special Olympics Unified Sports®, an inclusive sports program where those with intellectual disabilities (Special Olympics athletes) and those without intellectual disabilities (called Unified partners) compete on a team for training and competition.

Unified partners may be siblings, parents or community members who share a passion for inclusion through the power of sport.

Persons whose functional limitations are based solely on physical, behavioral, or emotional disability or a specific learning or sensory disability are not eligible to participate as Special Olympics athletes. These individuals may, however, be eligible to compete as a Unified partner. There are varying levels of Special Olympics Unified Sports®, from a competition model where athletes and Unified partners have similar abilities, to recreational models where the focus is on playing and having fun together without training guidelines.

It's all about sports!

The Special Olympics movement is all about sports! Sports is used as the vehicle to drive individual and societal change for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Special Olympics North Carolina offers training and competition in 20 Olympic-type sports.

Note: sport offerings vary in each local program.

Special Olympics, Inc. offers 30-plus Olympic-type sports and while SONC may not offer competition opportunities for all of those sports, athletes are welcome to train locally in any of those sports.

As mentioned previously, there is something for everyone in Special Olympics no matter their ability level. Special Olympics uses a process called divisioning to put athletes into competitive groupings based on age, gender and ability (depending on the sport). This positions every athlete to have good competition and to go for the gold!

Furthermore, Special Olympics makes participation in what are traditionally team sports like basketball available to everyone. For those athletes who are not up for full team play, individual skills competitions are provided where those individuals can score points through sport skills stations. This may prepare for them for team play one day or may prove to be the best format for their success.

Special Olympics also offers the Motor Activities Training Program (MATP) for athletes with a severe or profound intellectual disability.

SONC Sport Competitions

Local Program Competitions

Many local programs host local competitions for athletes in their community. The most popular local program competition is Spring Games. Athletes across the county and sometimes multiple counties compete in these local competitions managed by the local program leadership and volunteers. As a true grassroots movement, this is where the majority of the nearly 40,000 athletes of SONC are reached.

SONC Local Program Invitationals

Local programs host invitationals in a variety of sports to provide additional competition opportunities for athletes from multiple local programs. These invitationals are managed locally by dedicated volunteer leadership.

State-level events

Athletes from all across the state may also compete in state-level events throughout the year. The largest state-level event is the Summer Games traditionally held in Raleigh. Other yearly state-level events include the Equestrian Tournament, Cheerleading Tournament, Winter Games for Alpine Skiing & Snowboarding and Fall Tournament. In certain years, SONC also holds Winter Games for Figure Skating. Most of these events include a formal Opening Ceremony as well as a dance to provide a full event experience.

Southeast Regional Competitions

There are also competitions held for states in the Southeast Region of the U.S. SONC regularly hosts the U.S. Southeast Regional Swimming Invitational in Greensboro, NC each year as well as the U.S. Southeast Alpine Skiing & Snowboarding competition at Appalachian Ski Mountain every winter.

Additional Competition Opportunities

Every four years SONC sends athletes and Unified partners to the Special Olympics USA Games to compete in a variety of Olympic-type sports. Athletes qualify for USA Games based on place of finish within their division at a state-level event and are drawn randomly for Team NC.

Special Olympics, Inc. holds the World Summer and World Winter Games every two years, alternating between games where athletes from all over the world compete against one another. Athletes from around the United States are chosen to represent Special Olympics USA.

Young Athletes

Young Athletes is an early childhood sports play program for children ages 2 to 7 years old. This program includes games, songs, and other fun physical activities to get future athletes moving and ready for sport training! These young athletes work on the physical skills needed for sport training, so they are ready to play when they turn 8. Young Athletes is an inclusive program and can be provided to children with and without intellectual disabilities.

A full curriculum is available for teachers to incorporate this program into their classroom.

All Athletes Must Be Healthy

Special Olympics North Carolina is doing its part to make sure North Carolina will be among the leaders in improving the health of children and adults with intellectual disabilities.

Healthy Athletes® is a Special Olympics program that provides free health screenings and health education in a fun, welcoming environment with a focus on removing the anxiety people with intellectual disabilities often experience when faced with a visit to a medical professional.

Additionally, Special Olympics works with medical professionals in various communities to provide MedFest events where free sports physicals are provided to prepare athletes for participation in Special Olympics.

Fitness and nutrition education plan a huge role in a successful athletic experience. Special Olympics has created several programs and opportunities to include this as part of sports training and competition.

Learn more about our inclusive health programming here.

Athlete Leadership

Watch this short video to learn more about Athlete Leadership from some of our fantastic Athlete Leaders!

Unified Champion Schools

Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools bring youth with and without intellectual disabilities together through sports and education to create school communities of acceptance and respect.

To learn more about Unified Champion Schools, watch the short video below.

To Sum It All Up

Special Olympics has something for everyone! Special Olympics programming is happening year-round, all over the state of North Carolina. Athletes and Unified partners are training and competing in a variety of Olympic-type sports across the state, country and the world. To sum it all up:

• Sport is the vehicle – it all starts with sports!

• Training is the key.

• Competition is the means.

• Skill, confidence, courage and joy are the outcomes.

• Better preparation for life is the goal.

• Lifelong skills and increased independence are the results.

We need you!

You may be thinking "wow SONC has a lot going on" and you're right! That's why we need your help! Here are some ways to get involved:

1. Become a committee member or join a games management team to help plan events. Reach out to your local program coordinator to learn about local opportunities.

2. Become a coach! Even if you have never coached a sport, SONC will provide the training you need to get involved.

3. Become a Unified partner to experience the joy of training and competing alongside Special Olympics athletes in your community.

4. Volunteer at an upcoming event. Don’t forget to visit your local program page to see what events are happening in your community.

5. Raise money! There are several fundraising events held each year at the state level as well as locally and your participation is welcome!

If you have any questions on how to get involved with the Special Olympics movement, send us an email and one of our staff will be happy to find the right fit for you.

Please note that for the safety of all, leadership volunteer position must complete a Volunteer Screening Form, go through a background check and complete additional training as required by the volunteer position.

Thank you!

We hope you learned something and are ready to get involved in Special Olympics North Carolina! If you are viewing this material for a requirement, please take this brief quiz.

If you have questions or need more information, please contact volunteers@sonc.net. Thank you for your time, we look forward to you joining the movement!