The stars align for the official announcement of the 2015 Special Olympics Summer World Games for L.A.

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The Associated Press
Tim Shriver, the CEO and President of Special Olympics, addresses the Staples Center crowd during the announcement today that the 2015 Summer Games will be held in Los Angeles.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver was “always the master of the bait and switch,” said her son, Tim, with a slight grin.

“She was great at gathering everyone together to believe they were going to meet some ‘real big stars,’” he said, “but eventually we’d realize that we were about to meet some other kinds of ‘real’ stars.”

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Those would be the competitors for the Special Olympics, an organization Eunice Kennedy Shriver started with a summer day camp in 1963 to help empower children and adults with intellectual disabilities through sports and therapeutic physical fitness.

In a city already chock full of Hollywood’s brightest, Los Angeles will see things in a whole special light with the formal announcement Wednesday that the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games are officially a Southern California event.

Tim Shriver, Eunice’s third-oldest of five children and the current chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, told a Staples Center press conference audience that included his sister and former California first lady, Maria, that L.A. will “be a home to our call for global action to teach everyone that nobody is a ‘nobody.’ . . . you can look to Special Olympics to learn about courage, guts and raw determination.”

In less than four years from now, some 7,000 Special Olympic athletes from the four million who compete worldwide in 170 nations will descent upon Southern California, along with about 3,000 coaches, in what is being called the “largest humanitarian event” on the planet.

With the campuses of USC and UCLA designated as the Olympic villages, there will be 21 sports staged, open to the public and free of charge, in places such as Long Beach (sailing and rowing), Home Depot Center in Carson (soccer, tennis), Griffith Park (golf, cycling) and the L.A. Equestrian Center.

USC will also be used for track and field, basketball and swimming, while UCLA will host volleyball, judo, gymnastics, soccer and power lifting.The South Hall of the L.A. Convention Center will be put to use for bocce ball, roller skating, table tennis and team handball.

All of this will generate the need for some 40,000 volunteers, said Pat McClenahan, the president and CEO of the 2015 Special Olympics Organizing Committee.

“It’s a huge responsibility and we are glad to accept it,” said McClenahan, a former longtime TV executive in Southern California whose 24 year old daughter, Kelly, is a Special Olympic athlete with cerebral palsy.

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The Associated Press
Maria Shriver, second from left, daughter of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is joined by Olympians Pat McCormick, third from left; Rafer Johnson, behind in a suit, and Ann Meyers Drysdale, top right, in a group photo with red-jacketed Special Olympics athletes after at a news conference to announce that Los Angeles will host the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

McClenahan, the longtime chairman of the Board of Directors for Special Olympics Southern California, was approached by the International Special Olympics Committee almost a year ago to see if the organization was interested in hosting the 2015 Summer Games.

An organizing committee quickly made contacts and gathered sites that could be used for the Games. They then hosted ISOC officials on a four-day tour in March that included trips to locations and a dinner at Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s home.

They capped the site visit by attending the Lakers’ triple-overtime victory over the Phoenix Suns on March 22. McClenehan arranged through Lakers executive Jeanie Buss to honor eight Southern California Special Olympic athletes who were soon heading to the 2011 World Games in Athens.

The Staples Center crowd gave them all a standing ovation as they were introduced.

“The theme we used was that in a big city of movie stars, all our athletes will be the stars on this world stage for awareness and inclusion,” said McClenehan. “Those eight athletes were an example of that.”

Last May, the ISOC gave L.A. the go to stage the games over Durbin, South Africa.

Tuesday’s ceremony was pulled together to introduce more than a dozen local Special Olympic athletes. They were accompanied by U.S. Olympians such as Apolo Ohno, Michelle Kwan, John Naber, Dwight Stones, Bob Seagren, Patty McCormick, Sammy Lee, Mitch Kupchak and Lou Zamperini.

Tentative dates are to open the 2015 games on Saturday, July 4 and have nine days of competition. In addition, the preceding three days would be set aside for Southern California cities to adopt a visiting delegation of athletes, help them acclimate to the surroundings and training, and put on exhibitions to raise awareness.

Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, noting that 37 nationalities have a population base in this area, expects “there will be a fan base for every athlete who comes here.”

The biennial games have most recently been held outside of the U.S., in places such as in Shanghai, China (2007) and Dublin, Ireland (2003) prior to Athens this past summer. Winter Games recently have also been in Nagano, Japan (2005) and will be in PyeongChang, Korea in 2013.

L.A. first hosted the Summer Games in 1972, but the 2015 Summer Games will be the first back in the U.S. since the late 1990s. The first games, in 1968, were held in Chicago, and had a thousand competitors from 26 states and Canada.
Since then, cities such as Steamboat Springs, Colo.; Raleigh, N.C., and South Bend, Ind., have hosted. Boise, Idaho hosted the 2009 Winter Games.

SOSC president and CEO Bill Shumard, part of the 2015 Organizing Committee, said that having the world’s top Special Olympic athletes come to L.A. will integrate efforts to raise awareness of the local movement – which includes the annual Southern California Games each summer on the Long Beach State campus.

“We’re all operating out of the same footprint,” said Shumard, “but ultimately, Southern California will benefit the most from this.”

Rafer Johnson, the former UCLA Olympic decathlete who founded the Special Olympics of California and an SOSC board member, said having the games in L.A. will “show the world that we accepted (Eunice Shriver’s) challenge of recognizing that every man, woman and child deserves equal chance to succeed.”

As part of his speech during the presentation ceremony, Johnson added: “I know Mrs. Shriver is smiling down on us today and we smile back for her inspiration and courage.”

Tim Shriver, who lives in Washington D.C., said he expects his Southern California sister Maria and older brother Bobby, the mayor of Santa Monica, to be involved in the 2015 games, as well as all other sorts of cousins named Kennedy and Lawford who are “all from the same gene pool.”

He said the last Summer Games his mother was able to attend before her death in 2009 were in China, “a place where just 10 years earlier, the government was eliminating people with disabilities.” Special Olympics, he points out, has always been a catalyst for social change.

“Los Angeles will become another new start at looking at the world, where we aren’t talking about shame, or pity or charity, or victims,” said Shriver. “Los Angeles will make these athletes our own superstars, people to embrace. This is a place that knows how to tell stories. We have a lot of them to share.”

More:
== The official website of Special Olympics (linked here)
== The official website of Southern California Special Olympics (linked here), where those who would like to volunteer for the 2015 Summer Games may sign up.
== The official Eunice Kennedy Shriver website (linked here)

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