Special Olympics announced a milestone in its nearly 50-year history, as it surpassed the goal of registering 1 million Unified Sports participants, including athletes and teammates (individuals with intellectual disabilities) in Special Olympics Unified Sports. This comes as a result of support from ESPN, the Department of Education, Kim Samuel and the Samuel Family Foundation, Lions Club International, and many others.

Dedicated to promoting social inclusion through shared sports training and competition experiences, Unified Sports joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team and playing field. It was inspired by a simple principle: training together and playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.

Unified Sports is now in more than 4300 schools across the United States. In the 2014-2015 school year, Unified Sports was implemented in 54 percent of elementary schools compared to 75 percent of middle schools and 81 percent of high schools. In total, 71 percent of schools implemented Unified Sports, an increase of 12 percent over the previous school year. An impressive 24 percent of all participants, or 1,560 people competing at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Los Angeles, competed in Unified Sports, making those Games the most unified World Games to date.

In 2013, ESPN became the Global Presenting Sponsor of Special Olympics Unified Sports, and committed to help provide support and resources in grassroots locations to power Special Olympics’ goal of doubling the number of participants in inclusive sports. At that time just over 500,000 global participants, participated in Unified Sports. Thanks to recent growth and awareness, now more than 600,000 Special Olympics athletes and 650,000 of their teammates have registered to participate.

As part of its continued support of Unified Sports, ESPN will invest in Special Olympics’ goal of building Unified Sports programming and resources in 10,000 schools by the year 2020.

Kevin Martinez, VP of ESPN Corporate Citizenship said, “We are proud that Special Olympics has exceeded its goal of reaching 1 million Unified participants around the world.  For everyone at ESPN involved in Special Olympics, it is not just about the number, but the value and impact sports can play in fostering social inclusion.”

Officially launched in 1989, Special Olympics Unified Sports gained momentum over the last 27 years due in large part to multiple partners and supporters who have facilitated the growth of the program.