South Bend, Indiana
The opening ceremonies were broadcast live on ABC television, Bart Connor and Mary Lou Retton, Olympic Gold Medal Gymnasts came to our event, and the world watched these games.
It was the first time that we competed compulsory routines (3 levels- Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced) and optional routines (advanced only) at a World Games. The men had 6 events (Pommel horse and Rings were only offered to the Advanced level) and the women had 4 events. All Around was offered, if the gymnast competed in all events. They could be specialists and compete in fewer events, if they chose. The venue was on the Notre Dame Campus, right by the outside venues and we were packed daily. (We had to add more bleachers!)
Chad Oncale from Schriever, Louisiana, a gymnast with down syndrome, was one of the stars of the competition. His coach was quoted as saying, “His movements are precise, his motivation unfailing.” He is respected “as a disciplined, even-tempered and dedicated athlete” and he was a champion. He wowed the audience with his iron cross on rings, among other skills he performed.
During the games & following it, articles were written about the heroism of the athletes. I wrote one about getting involved in Special Olympics gymnastics for USA Gymnastics magazine and about Chad Oncale. The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, Family Circle Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Time Magazine, as well as others had articles that included talk of the athlete’s heroism, with sports being a great medicine and the courage of our athletes for getting out there and trying. Time magazine said, “At the Notre Dame gym, lean, well-conditioned gymnasts are performing difficult maneuvers on the rings and the parallel bars. Obviously, they are athletes.”
Notre Dame Head Football Coach Lou Holtz reflected on the true meaning of sport in an interview after the games. “I wish you could have been here when we had Special Olympics. That changed my life after that first year. Six thousand people from all over the world, with real handicaps, real reasons to be dejected- but they were filled with love and excitement, and all they wanted was the opportunity to compete in Special Olympics.”
Olympic gymnasts Bart Conner, Mary Lou Retton and Tracee Talavera helped with an athlete clinic.