How It All Began

The Special Olympics movement began in the 1950’s and early 1960’s, when Eunice Kennedy Shriver saw how unjustly and unfairly people with intellectual disabilities were treated. She also saw that many children with intellectual disabilities didn’t even have a place to play. She decided to take action.

Special Olympics Sydney Hills – Our Journey

Sydney Hills Special Olympics began in 2010 as an offshoot of the Upper North Shore Club (then region). Previously local athletes who joined Special Olympics had been registered with either Upper North Shore or Sydney West. They included swimmers Ryan Buecker, Rebecca Teale and Sarah Nethery, who all had to travel long distances to train and compete.

The Upper North Shore committee was fully stretched servicing such a wide area and in 2009 joint chairmen Paul Phelan and Glen Simmons suggested to Rebecca’s mother Sue that she might like to consider starting a new region in The Hills. It was at this time that Sue met Aileen Buecker and Kerry Nethery, mothers of Ryan and Sarah respectively, who offered to join her in launching the new region.

Rather than offer a broad range of sports from day one the three mums decided to start with swimming, as that was what their three children all did. Finding a venue was the first obstacle they had to overcome. Sue recalls approaching “nearly every pool in the Hills” before the Forbes Carlisle swim school at Norwest agreed to help.

The program began with six athletes: Ben McLoughlin, Sarah Nethery, Jacqui Green, Rebecca Teale, Ryan Buecker and Ashley Mills. They were at various stages of ability, which taxed volunteer coach Jacy Harding’s skills and patience, as well as those of Kerry, Aileen and Sue, who ran the programs, timetabling and arranging sessions.

The swim program was officially launched by legendary rugby league commentator Ray ‘Rabs’ Warren. A come and try day soon after, supported by soccer superstar Alex Tobin, resulted in 28 athlete registrations. Fund-raising was a necessity from day one. A disco, BBQs, and a major fundraiser organised by air conditioning company Laing O’Rourke helped kick-start the region.

Since 2011 the major fund-raising event has been the golf day organised by Tim Millard held and at Castle Hill Country Club in October. Because of the success of the swim program at Carlisle Norwest a bigger venue was soon needed. Oakhill College through teacher Bob Munday offered its superb indoor pool. “Bob was and to this date has been our biggest supporter”, says Sue Teale.

To expand the range of sports on offer to the five currently offered – swimming, soccer, dance, ten-pin bowling and basketball – required volunteers and coaches, as well as a proper organisational structure. With the assistance of Upper North Shore’s Barry Easy, Kerry, Sue and Aileen formed a steering committee to establish the new region.

On August 16 2010 a community meeting was held at Castle Hill RSL Club with 60 people attending. Sydney Hills Special Olympics was born! The first chairperson was Rotarian Barry Philps, who stayed in the role until 2014. Sue Teale became vice-chair and shared a sports co-ordinator role with Kerry Nethery until Wayne Lever took on the job in 2013.

Sydney Hills Special Olympics is extraordinarily grateful to the people who have given up their time over the years to help athletes with an intellectual disability reach their personal best. First Steps. Eunice Kennedy Shriver guided children with intellectual disabilities into sports at her Camp Shriver summer camps, which were a forerunner of Special Olympics. Read here for more on events leading to the founding of International Special Olympics.

See how you can get involved

Special Olympics Sydney Hills welcomes volunteers of all ages to help our athletes reach their potential. Qualified coaches are especially welcome. Simply click the button below and fill in and email the Get in Touch form. We’ll get right back to you!