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Disney and ESPN celebrate new Special Olympics Unified Sports initiative with basketball, soccer and flag football games

Last week, The Walt Disney Company and ESPN announced a two-year, global initiative with Special Olympics Unified Sports during a ceremony at ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. campus, in conjunction with ESPN’s 34th anniversary. Special guests present for the ceremony included Portland Trail Blazers’ NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, X Games skateboarder Mitchie Brusco, U.S. women’s soccer player Kristine Lilly, Special Olympics International board member and champion figure skater Michelle Kwan, Special Olympics Chairman and CEO Timothy P. Shriver and Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Sue Swanson.

SportsCenter anchor and NFL Live host Trey Wingo served as emcee for the ceremony. SportsCenter anchors Jay Harris, Kevin Negandhi, Sage Steele, Kevin Connors and Sara Walsh all participated in the celebration.

Unified Logo

Building on ESPN’s 30-year history with Special Olympics, the initiative leverages the power of sports to promote an environment of social inclusion and acceptance by uniting people with and without intellectual disabilities on teams for training and competition.

Through a multi-million dollar financial and in-kind investment, Disney and ESPN will help to grow Special Olympics Unified Sports programs in Connecticut, central Florida, southern California/greater Los Angeles and Seattle, as well as globally in Argentina, Brazil, India and Mexico. Currently, there are 500,000 participants worldwide with a goal of reaching one million participants by 2015.

“Unified Sports dramatically increases social inclusion in the community by helping to break down barriers that have historically kept people apart,” said Kevin Martinez, vice president, Corporate Outreach, ESPN. “We believe that through the power of sports, Special Olympics Unified Sports can foster lifelong friendships and healthy lifestyles while creating stronger communities.”

Following the official announcement, Special Olympics Unified Sports teams from Connecticut joined Lillard, Brusco, Lilly, Kwan, Harris and Connors for Unified basketball, flag football and soccer competitions across ESPN’s campus. Check out the gallery below to see photographs from the ceremony and the competitions.

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Video produced by Dave Williams

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