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Our History

Special Olympics Michigan has been part of the Special Olympics movement since its start in 1968. Here's are some of the memorable moments from the Special Olympics movement in Michigan.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver overlooks Soldier Field at the 1968 Games.


  • In 1968, Special Olympics Inc. is established and the first International Summer Special Olympics Games take place at Chicago's Soldier Field where Michigan has a delegation.
  • In 1969, Michigan's first State Summer Games take place at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.


A crowd view of the 1975 World Games at Central Michigan University


  • In 1972, Special Olympics Michigan officially becomes incorporated and moves its headquarters from Adrian to Mt. Pleasant and the campus of Central Michigan University. The SOMI office was originally located within Warriner Hall and later moved to Rowe Hall, where SOMI remained until 1988.
  • In 1975, Special Olympics Michigan and Central Michigan University host the fourth International Summer Special Olympics Games in Mount Pleasant. View a highlight video of the 1975 Games here.
  • First State Basketball Tournament is held in Holt and first State Soccer Tournament takes place at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti.
  • In 1977, the first State Winter Games takes place at the Schuss Mountain slopes at Shanty Creek Resort.
  • In 1979, Michigan sends 90 athletes and 22 coaches to the International Summer Special Olympics Games in Brockport, N.Y.
A young Special Olympics Michigan athlete smiles with a medal around her neck.


  • In 1980, Special Olympics Michigan holds its first coaches' training school.
  • In 1981, Vic Wertz, a former Detroit Tiger and Michigan Hall of Fame Member, creates the Wertz Warriors endurance snowmobile ride throughout northern Michigan to "completely underwrite the Special Olympics Michigan State Winter Games". 
  • In 1982, the first State Softball Tournament takes place in Midland and State Poly Hockey Tournament becomes an annual event.
  • In 1988, SOMI moves into the newly-remodeled Special Olympics Michigan office building on the campus of Central Michigan University. The building was previously owned by the State of Michigan and was home to the Department of Transportation.
  • In 1989, Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver attends the Special Olympics Michigan State Winter Games.
Four Special Olympics Michigan Poly Hockey players smile for the camera.


More history coming!

Project UNIFY


  • In 2008, Special Olympics Michigan starts the Unified Champion Schools program (known as Project UNIFY at its inception) in Michigan.
Andre Drummond hugs a SOMI athlete.


  • In 2014, SOMI holds its first State Fall Games in southeast Michigan featuring cycling, flag football, golf, soccer and softball. Kayaking is added in 2016.
  • In 2016, Detroit Pistons star Andre Drummond becomes a Special Olympics Ambassador.
  • In 2018, Special Olympics celebrates its 50th anniversary, Lois Arnold retires as President and CEO after 38 years with the organization and Tim Hileman is named as Arnold's successor.
  • In 2019, SOMI purchases the former South Christian High School campus near Grand Rapids and announces plans to transform the grounds into the world's largest Special Olympics facility, known as the Unified Sports and Inclusion Center.