Standing in the middle of Soldier’s Field in Chicago in July of 1968, Dr. Frank Hayden got the message loud and clear from his colleague Harry ‘Red’ Foster, only a few feet away. [divider]
Foster, a distinguished sportscaster and later member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, suggested they launch the same type of Special Olympics in Canada that they were there to witness for the first time. The year after the U.S. staged its first Special Olympics for the intellectually disabled, Canada had its own competition at the CNE Grounds in Toronto. Now Burlington’s newest high school will be named Dr. Frank J. Hayden Secondary School. Hayden obtained a PhD in exercise physiology and psychology from the University of Illinois and in subsequent studies discovered that people with intellectual handicaps were only about half as physically fit as those without any. “We did experiments introducing physical activity into their lives,” he said. “Then we had to find out how to do it in a mass way, to bring sport into their lives. The Special Olympics is really an expression of that. “But world competitions aren’t the most important thing. It’s the journey the athletes take to get there. The system is there for all of them, not just the ones who advance.” Studies have shown that the fitness level of the mentally challenged has improved years. “The naming of the school is not solely about me, but more about the Special Olympics and providing some recognition for what the intellectually disabled have done,” he said.
He also credits his wife Marion for raising a family of four children while he was traveling around the world helping to develop the Special Olympics. Hayden had been invited to share his research findings with the Americans by a faculty member of Southern Illinois University, who was a close friend of the family of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy. The family had established the Joseph P Kennedy Jr. Foundation in 1946 in memory of the President’s older brother, who was killed in the Second World War. Hayden invited Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the former president’s sister, to attend the inaugural Games in Chicago and she agreed to come although it was little more than a month after her brother former U.S. attorney general Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. Hayden later worked closely on future events with Ethel Kennedy, Robert Kennedy’s widow. There were close to 1,000 participants from 26 states, plus a floor hockey team from Canada, at the first Special Olympics. Today, the movement has expanded across Canada and enriches the lives of more than 34,000 children, youth and adults who are registered in its 17 Olympic-type winter and summer sport programs.
For the last three years, the Burlington Youth Soccer Club has been hosting a tournament for Ontario Special Olympics athletes, with teams coming from as far away as Timmins and Windsor. The event is organized by more than 50 volunteers. Hayden was born in Windsor, but grew up in St. Catharines, where he played senior lacrosse for the St. Catharines Athletics. The late Ted Howe, a member of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, was best man at his wedding. Hayden taught at the University of Western Ontario, University of Toronto and McMaster, where he became director of the School of Physical Education and Athletics in 1975 and created the McMaster Sports Fitness School. “That school has been in existence for 37 years and 1,500 kids go through it every year,” he said. “ While he was at McMaster, some of his students went out to Burlington to assist with the Burlington Barracudas Special Olympics swim team at Angela Coughlin Pool. Ed O’Bradovich, a defensive end who earned an NFL championship ring with the Chicago Bears 50 years ago, was in one of Hayden’s classes at Illinois. Grade 9 and 10 students will start attending the new high school in the Alton Community on Dundas Street in September.
The school will add a Grade 11 in 2014 and a Grade 12 in 2015. A special all-day official opening is planned for Nov. 23. The school has eight gymnasiums, as well as an eight-lane all-weather track which surrounds the football field. School athletic teams will be called the ‘Hayden Huskies.” Herb Garbutt, a sports reporter with The Burlington Post put Hayden’s name forward and the Halton Board of Education approved the naming after considering other nominations. Hayden is an Officer of the Order of Canada and a distinguished alumnus of the University of Illinois. This year the Burlington Sport Alliance established the Dr. Frank Hayden Award, which recognizes involvement within the Special Olympics programs of Burlington. The first recipient was Adam Piersma, who was born with a congenital heart defect that required four surgeries, but went on to compete in the Ontario Special Olympics and won four medals.