Expanded Access, Unified Sports Growth, Athlete Health To Drive Future of Country’s Largest Special Olympics Chapter

President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman Launches Campaign To Support the Next Generation

New York City, NY – Special Olympics New York kicked off a year-long celebration of its 50th anniversary today in New York City with the first-ever Inclusion Cup, a Unified Soccer tournament for athletes with and without intellectual disabilities (ID). The Cup is being held as part of today’s Fall Invitational at Randall’s Island Park, where more than 400 athletes and coaches from throughout the state are competing in softball and soccer.

President & CEO Stacey Hengsterman outlined a vision for the future of the country’s largest Special Olympics chapter at Opening Ceremonies, saying the organization aims to reach more of the 585,000 New Yorkers who have an intellectual disability by increasing awareness and expanding access to its core sports programs, Unified opportunities, particularly in schools, and initiatives that support athlete health.

“As we celebrate 50 years of sports and inclusion and look to the future, Special Olympics New York will continue to ensure an opportunity for every aspiring athlete, regardless of age or ability,” said Hengsterman. “We will raise awareness so that people know who our athletes are and what they are capable of. We will advocate for the equitable, quality healthcare that people with ID deserve. And with our athletes leading the way, we will continue our work to make New York the most unified and inclusive state in the country.”

“Everybody is entitled to live their lives in an inclusive way, to be accepted and respected citizens of the world,” said Mary Davis, chief executive officer of Special Olympics International. “Special Olympics makes that possible for millions globally, including more than 67,000 athletes and their families in New York. We celebrate the abilities of all people and we will keep pushing forward until we have reached every eligible athlete with our programs, giving them the confidence, the ability and the platform to be fully engaged and respected members of society. Congratulations to our New York family, friends and fans on 50 years of excellence as well as its inspired vision for the future.”

Approximately 11 percent of eligible New Yorkers currently participate in Special Olympics New York programming, which has been proven to enhance an athlete’s quality of life through improved mental health and physical fitness as well as social acceptance and inclusion.

Hengsterman’s vision includes five overarching goals: recruiting and supporting the next generation of athletes, coaches and families; continued expansion Unified Sports, where athletes with and without ID compete together on the same team; advancing a comprehensive agenda to address athlete health, including programming as well as advocacy for state and federal healthcare practices that impact people with ID; increasing awareness, engagement and understanding; and continuous improvement to ensure the organization will be the best at getting better.

Today’s event also marks the launch of a 50-day fundraising campaign aimed at beginning to generate the funds needed to achieve these goals. Supporters are asked to give $10 and encourage 10 friends to do the same.

The Next Generation Campaign can be viewed and shared at: www.specialolympics-ny.org/SONY50.

“Today we celebrate 50 years delivering on a mission that is so critical to so many, and we renew our promises of athletic opportunity and inclusion for the next generation,” said Patricia Martinelli, chair of the Special Olympics New York Board of Directors. “We are proud to share this historic moment with all of the athletes, families, coaches, volunteers and donors who have made us who we are today. I have every confidence that with Stacey’s leadership and the continued support of our amazing Special Olympics New York family, we will achieve our ambitious goals for the next generation.”

“What I have always loved most about Special Olympics is that the public sees us athletes for who we are – champions,” said Paul Asaro, a multiple-sport Special Olympics New York athlete, coach, ambassador and member of the Board of Directors. “Special Olympics New York has changed my life in so many ways outside of sports as well. It has helped me become independent, employed and healthy. I look forward to supporting the next generation of athletes like me.”

“Special Olympics Unified Sports is the fastest growing sports movement in the world, and nowhere is this more true than in New York, where nearly 50 new Unified Champion Schools were added in the last academic year alone,” said Special Olympics North America Vice President Andrea Cahn. “New York’s vision to be the most inclusive state in the country is highly commendable, and with #GenerationUnified currently engaging 8,000 New York high schools students strong and growing, it is certainly achievable. As all these students come of age with an expectation for Unified living, the stage is set for a vibrant, inclusive community for the next 50 years.”

“Stacey and I share both a history and a future with Special Olympics New York. Each of us were young moms of children with ID who did not know about the impact this amazing organization could have had on our families growing up,” said Grace Hightower, member of the Special Olympics New York Board of Directors. “I am proud to be tackling the issue of awareness, engagement and understanding together with Stacey, the Board of Directors, and our partners across the state so that parents and families in every region know we are here, and we can help.”

“Healthcare has lagged behind the progress and advances made in achieving social equity and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities,” said Dr. Steven Perlman, global clinical director and founder of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes. “Special Olympics is trying to close the gap and ensuring access to quality healthcare for this medically underserved and marginalized population, but we have a great deal of work still to do. It’s clear New York is committed to being at the forefront under Stacey’s leadership. The creation of her newly-formed health Advisory Committee to work with the Special Olympics Healthy Athletes Program is a concrete step toward addressing access issues unique to New York State as well as those affecting the rest of the country.”

Special Olympics New York was established in 1970 and has since grown to be the largest Special Olympics chapter in the country and one of the largest in the world. The organization will celebrate its 50th anniversary at its signature events over the next year while also introducing new opportunities for athletes, coaches, volunteers and families to get involved.

Today’s Inclusion Cup was sponsored by the Consul General of the United Arab Emirates New York and Advance Care Alliance.


About Special Olympics New York

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020, Special Olympics New York is the largest state chapter in the country, serving more than 67,000 athletes across New York with year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health screenings. The organization also partners with more than 170 schools statewide to offer Unified Sports. All Special Olympics New York programs are offered at no cost to athletes, their families or caregivers. For additional information about Special Olympics New York, to learn more about getting involved, or to make a donation, visit www.specialolympicsNY.org.