Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) is making major construction milestones transforming the once South Christian High School into the world’s largest inclusive sports facility - the Special Olympics Michigan Unified Sports & Inclusion Center.
With state-of-the-art renovations nearing fifty percent complete inside the building, work is now set to begin on the campus’ 17-acre outdoor sports complex. The exterior complex includes an eight-lane collegiate-level track, five natural grass soccer fields, three pickleball courts, a putting/chipping green, 10 bocce ball courts, an athlete promenade, and an outdoor plaza.
To celebrate this milestone, we invite you to join us on-site on Tuesday, November 14 as SOMI breaks ground outside of the building, signifying the start of Phase II of construction fueled by the Building Tomorrow’s Champions Campaign.
“It has been incredible to see this facility take shape. From the beginning, our team set out with a plan to create a model of collaboration and an inclusive environment to support persons with disabilities,” said Tim Hileman, SOMI President & CEO, who first introduced the project four years ago. “By sharing the same facility, our partners can learn from each other, complement programs and services, and provide greater opportunities as we help to empower and build tomorrow’s champions.”
With an anticipated completion date before the end of 2024, the campus anticipates hosting regional, statewide, national, and international competitions expected to generate millions in economic development for West Michigan over the coming years.
“We can’t believe all of this is for us,” said Max Erhardt, SOMI Athlete and Building Tomorrow’s Champions Capital Campaign Cabinet Member. “Before now, we played on other people’s fields and courts. You might not have seen us then. You will now. You will see everything we are capable of doing.”
For more than 50 years, Special Olympics Michigan (SOMI) has sought to create a community of inclusion where every person is accepted and welcomed, regardless of ability or disability. Each year more than 22,000 athletes across Michigan participate in not only sports, but health, fitness, and wellness programming along with leadership development.
“It’s definitely about sports at the start, but in the end, it’s about something much bigger: inclusion,” explained Claudia (C.J.) VanSkiver, SOMI Athlete and Building Tomorrow’s Champions Capital Campaign Cabinet Member.
When SOMI began planning for this inclusive space, it underestimated the excitement and energy such a move would create. What started as a small seed of hope blossomed into a facility hosting partnering organizations that support those with physical and intellectual disabilities as well as mental health challenges. In collaboration with the local community, state government, and other partners, SOMI has created a resource hub. Through this new collaborative model, the programs and resources offered at this facility will touch nearly every family in our region.
Non-profit partner tenants include:
- American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO)
- Autism Alliance of Michigan
- Autism Support of Kent County
- be nice. Mental Health Foundation of WM
- Community Living Services
- Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services
- Disability Advocates of Kent County
- Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan
- Far Out Volleyball
In 2019, the Board of Directors of SOMI purchased the former South Christian High School building in Grand Rapids with the dream of turning this 127,000 sq. ft. facility into the world’s largest Special Olympics training and sports center. Now, that dream is one step closer to fruition. We hope you’ll join us in marking this milestone.