Special Olympics Pennsylvania (SOPA) offers more than 260 competitions for nearly 20,000 athletes in 56 local programs. Competition is offered in 21 Olympic-type sports and three emerging sports for athletes eight years or older. Unlike other sporting events, there is no charge to participate or attend a Special Olympics competition for the competitor, family or spectator. SOPA operates on a tri-season basis of winter, summer, and fall. Athletes are eligible to progress from local, to sectional, to state, to national or even international competition. Special Olympics alternates between World Summer and World Winter Games every two years, similar to the Olympics.
How To Participate
In order to compete, all athletes must train with their local program for a minimum of eight consecutive weeks prior to competition. In order to train and get involved, athletes must complete an Application for Participation and submit it to their local program coordinator. To participate as an athlete or coach, find a local program nearest to you and contact them directly.
How Do Athletes Advance to Higher Level Competitions?
Athletes must complete a minimum of 8 weeks of training in their particular sport. City/county programs offer a local competition for all sports. If, however, due to low training numbers, a program cannot offer a local competition, athletes can participate in invitational competitions being offered by nearby programs. Advancement to sectional and state level competitions may at times be limited based on allocations provided to each local program. If programs are not limited in the number of athletes who may advance, the coach can register those athletes who have completed their 8 weeks of training and have no disciplinary or medical restrictions for traveling to next level competitions. Where allocations are provided to the local programs, the process of random selection is used to determine the athletes who will advance to the sectional and/or state competitions. Advancement to national competitions and World Games is determined by an application process. Your local program representatives can provide you with details of these competitions as they are announced as well as the application process and timeline.
What Is Divisioning?
Special Olympics uses a unique form of divisioning for competition based on age, gender, and ability so that every athlete has a reasonable chance to excel while competing. In situations where there are not enough competitors to hold competition in a certain age group, the athletes are moved to the next oldest group within the same ability range.
What Is Random Selection?
When random selection is required for competition advancement, the names of all athletes who have won gold medals in their division at the next lower level competition are placed in a hat and randomly selected to fill program allocations for the competition. If allocations exceed the number of gold medal winners, additional selections will be made from silver medalists. If allocations exceed the number of gold and silver medal winners, additional selections will be made from bronze medalists.
What Are Allocations?
The process of allocations is used for some higher level competitions to determine the size of a program’s delegation for each of their sports. Allocations are determined using a formula and the number of program athletes that completed the minimum 8 week training requirement in the sport during the year prior to the competition.
Before allocations can be determined, programs submit training numbers three times a year to confirm the number of athletes training in a particular sport in a particular season. Click here to learn more about our allocation process.
City/county programs conduct local competition opportunities for all offered sports. Additional competition opportunities are available by attending invitational events being offered by nearby programs. For information and details on local and invitational opportunities, please contact your local program representative.
Sectional competitions are hosted by Special Olympics Pennsylvania for each training season (summer, fall, winter) in each of the three sections of the state (west, central, east). For information and details on sectional competition opportunities in your area, click on the State and Sectional Events link or contact our Norristown office at 1-800-235-9058.
Special Olympics Pennsylvania hosts the following state level competitions:
Summer Games – normally held at Penn State University in early June
Fall Festival – normally held at Villanova University in early November
Winter Games – normally held in Johnstown & Seven Springs in late January/early February
State Floor Hockey Tournament - normally held at Bald Eagle Area High School in March
For information and details, including family housing and activities, contact our Norristown office at 1-800-235-9058 ext. 235.
Special Olympics, Inc. periodically hosts National Games. As National Games are organized, local programs are provided with information on the games as well as the process for applying for participation. For information or details on National Games, contact your local program representative.
Special Olympics, Inc. hosts World Games that are held every two years, alternating between Summer and Winter Games. The games are hosted in various countries. State programs receive allocations in specific sports for attendance at these games and there is an application process for athlete participation. As details become available, they are provided to Special Olympics Pennsylvania who will then provide that information to the local programs. For information and details on World Games, contact your local program representative.