McClenahan brings home Special Olympics

Wednesday afternoon's Special Olympics press conference happened exactly the way Glendale resident Patrick McClenahan envisioned.

McClenahan, chairman of the Los Angeles Bid Committee, was joined by dignitaries, athletes, politicians and celebrities at a victory reception at Staples Center as the Special Olympics International Board announced Los Angeles would host the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.

"We are thrilled and honored to be selected as the international city to host the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games and look forward to showcasing the remarkable skills and inspiring passion of Special Olympics athletes," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said at the press conference.

The main ceremony that afternoon involved Timothy Shriver, son of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver and chairman and CEO of Special Olympics, signing a memorandum of agreement with McClenahan.

"Bringing our World Games to a city as powerful and prominent on the world stage as Los Angeles will allow our Special Olympics athletes to showcase their talents and demonstrate to the world the best in sports," Shriver said at the event.

Yet, neither the pomp and glitz or mingling of the powerful inspired McClenahan as much as the "Parade of Athletes" that opened up the afternoon's festivities.

The parade paired a special athlete with a former Olympian, as notables such as Rafer Johnson, Anton Apollo Ono and John Naber joined up with area special Olympians, some of whom recently competed at the 2011 Special Olympics in Athens.

"It was a great day and a great event. One of the managers at Staples told me that [Wednesday's] press conference was the best they ever held," McClenahan said. "There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

"Everyone realizes how big the Special Olympics have become. There are now four million athletes worldwide who participate. The World Games has very much come on par with the Olympics itself."

The raw numbers may bear that out.

Approximately 40,000 volunteers and 3,500 event officials will be needed for the 2015 Special Olympics, in which 7,000 athletes and 1,750 coaches from 165 delegations will compete in 23 sports in front of 4,000 honored guests, 12,000 family members and an audience of thousands at specific venues with millions watching worldwide.

It was at that press conference where McClenahan officially stepped down as both chairman of the Los Angeles Bid Committee and chairman of the Board of Directors for the Special Olympics Southern California.

By his own signature on the memorandum, the 1976 Hoover High graduate now owns a new title as President & CEO of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games Organizing Committee.

With the position came little time to celebrate.

"The process has already started. We have a staff right now that will continue to grow over the years as needed to plan, fund and operate the games," McClenahan said. "The first order of business is taking a bid and turning it into a business plan and then starting to raise money. We're really going to need to fund-raise."

The task of preparing an international city for the world seems daunting.

Then again, McClenahan has faced similarly steep odds with less time.

Less than a year ago, hosting the Special Olympics wasn't even a consideration, at least according to McClenahan.

In October last year, a "chance" conversation at the biennial Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics turned into a meeting between McClenahan and the Los Angeles Sports Council board of trustees.

"The L.A. Sports Council is always looking forward to bringing major events to the city," McClenahan said. "Not only does the Special Olympics provide an opportunity to educate the community but it's also a positive economic resource to the city."

In less than 30 days, McClenahan received positive feedback from Villaraigosa and other community leaders before crafting a bid to the Special Olympics International Board before the Nov. 1 deadline.

On Nov. 30, the International Board announced that Los Angeles and South Africa were the two finalists for the games.

"We were really excited to find out we were a finalist," McClenahan said. "The commitment I received from city leaders then and after made it all possible."

The next big step after the planning process in November were site inspections made by the International Board in March.

It was during these visits that McClenahan showed off Los Angeles.

"We received a lot of help from the cities' two major universities in UCLA and USC," McClenahan said. "Both schools jumped at the opportunity to help and play a part in something special."

McClenahan guided the International Board's selection committee on a tour of the city as the group visited possible event venues such as the Home Depot Center, UCLA and USC.

UCLA Chancellor Gene Block also hosted the international delegation one afternoon while Villaraigosa invited the party to Getty House on another date. On the visit to USC, athletic director Pat Haden, former Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth and real estate mogul Ed Roski welcomed the committee.

Finally, the delegation capped their visit to Los Angeles with a trip to Staples Center, where a few Special Olympians were recognized between the first and second quarter.

"Through Jeanie Buss, I arranged for eight athletes who competed in Greece to be honored at mid-court before 18,000 people," McClenahan said. "It was a surprise to the selection committee but it really hit home with the theme of our bid.

"In a city full of movie stars and all-stars, our Special Olympics athletes will be the stars of this show as they demonstrate their skills, courage and joy."

McClenahan's full-court press worked.

In May, it was unofficially announced that Los Angeles won the bid over an aggressive proposal from South Africa, which was coming off successfully hosting the World Cup.

"It was a great win for the city but also a big deal for the country," McClenahan said. "The Special Olympics were founded in the United States, but hadn't been hosted here since 1999 [North Carolina]."

While the games bring many positive aspects to a host city, one of the more important benefits, contends McClenahan, is the additional recognition.

"So much of the Special Olympics is awareness. So many people are uneducated about people with intellectual disabilities," McClenahan said. "What I want most from these games is for people to realize that those with disabilities have value, ability and importance.

"When you get to know our athletes and experience of the games, it will change you. I hope that this experience will change many people."

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