Special Olympics Arkansas

Special Olympics Arkansas (SOAR) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization headquartered in North Little Rock (Pulaski County). The organization’s mission is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, giving them continuing opportunities to develop fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy, and participate in a sharing of gifts, skills, and friendships with their families, other Special Olympics athletes, and the community.

Special Olympics Arkansas began in 1970, just two years after Special Olympics Incorporated founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver held the first Special Olympics games, at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, in 1968. Arkansas’s first games were held in Conway (Faulkner County) at Hendrix College, with approximately 280 athletes in attendance. The following year, games were held in North Little Rock at Old Main with Shriver in attendance.

Since the first games in 1970, SOAR has grown to seventeen areas encompassing all counties in the state, supporting 14,000 adults and children with intellectual disabilities. Twenty Olympic-type sports are offered, with 240 competitions are held year-round. Some sports include bocce, bowling, field hockey, basketball, flag football, softball, golf, soccer, volleyball, and gymnastics. The largest competition event each year is the May summer games, which hosts 2,000 athletes participating in seven sports. Arkansas athletes also compete in Special Olympics USA Games held in the summer every four years and Special Olympics World Games held every four years, alternating between winter and summer competitions.

In addition to competitions and training, SOAR has programming in health, education, and community building. Special Olympics Healthy Athlete provides free health screenings in a fun, welcoming environment that removes the anxiety people with intellectual disabilities often experience when faced with a medical or dental visit. Young Athlete focuses upon fun activities that are important to mental and physical growth for young people with intellectual disabilities. The Athlete Leadership Program is designed to aid Special Olympics athletes in building upon their athletic successes, especially in developing their social skills. Special Olympics Arkansas launched Project Unify in the fall of 2013; this education-based project uses sports and education programs to activate young people to develop inclusive school communities that foster respect, dignity, and advocacy for people with intellectual disabilities.

SOAR has a volunteer base of more than 5,000 to help with activities from games and competitions to fundraising and programs.

For additional information:
“Eddie Meador Head Coach for Special Olympics.” Arkansas Gazette, May 24, 1970, p. 5B.

Special Olympics Arkansas. http://www.specialolympicsarkansas.org/ (accessed October 19, 2021).

Camie Powell
Special Olympics Arkansas


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