IRL: Save Arnold picnic raises important funds for Special Olympics

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, May 9, 2000 -- Twenty years ago, Arnold was a live, snorting pig. Today he's gone, but he still serves as the figurehead for the biggest fund-raising event of the Special Olympics of Indiana. And the money...

INDIANAPOLIS, Tuesday, May 9, 2000 -- Twenty years ago, Arnold was a live, snorting pig. Today he's gone, but he still serves as the figurehead for the biggest fund-raising event of the Special Olympics of Indiana. And the money that his name has helped raise over the last two decades certainly is nothing to snort at. On Sunday, May 14, the 20th annual "Save Arnold" barbecue and picnic will take place on the temporary flag lot at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It is a charitable project of Speedway Chairman of the Board Mari Hulman George, who agreed to do it for one time in 1981 and has kept it going ever since. This year's barbecue will bring contributions to Special Olympics of Indiana from Save Arnold Day to a whopping $1.5 million. "The program today is where it is because of the generosity of Mari," said Dennis Schmidt, executive director of the Special Olympics of Indiana. "Having that money coming in every year helps in maintaining our programs." There were 10,178 athletes competing in these programs in the past year. There are more than 150 events in various sports conducted around the state, plus sectional, regional and state finals in 11 sports. There are only 13 paid employees, so it takes 6,000 volunteers to present these competitions. "It gives the athletes a chance to be part of a planned sports program," Schmidt said. A new program will be introduced during Arnold competition this year at the picnic. Marion County Indy Sports has initiated the "Play" program for 6 and 7-year-olds, and they will be participating in games during the picnic at the Speedway. Previously, Special Olympics had no competitions for children under 8. "The Play program will gradually introduce athletics to these children," Schmidt said. "They will be trained how to throw a ball, run and dribble a basketball. The goal is to spread this throughout the United States." Because of the participation of the younger children, the oldest children who will compete at the picnic will be 11. The competitions will be in the softball throw, standing long jump and 50-yard dash. In addition to the Marion County Indy Sports, also participating will be athletes from the Lawrence Township Special Olympics, Hamilton County Special Olympics, Putnam County Special Olympics and Clark County (Jeffersonville) Special Olympics. As usual, many Indianapolis 500 drivers will participate in the Save Arnold games. But this year they will be honorary coaches instead of joining teams as participants as in the past. "We've had them all -- all the great ones -- there being supportive," Schmidt said. Schmidt recalls that at the first Save Arnold competition, three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford tripped in a race and skinned his arms. Arnold died of heat stroke in the early 1980s and was buried on Mari Hulman George's farm in Terre Haute, Ind. There was an Arnold II for a while, and Schmidt said he was carried around to events in a special cart. The Save Arnold program was to be a one-year event. But after a successful debut, Mari Hulman George said to Schmidt, "Let's try again." That first year, Save Arnold raised $67,000 for Special Olympics. "In 1981 that was a huge sum of money," Schmidt said. "It's still significant today." The Save Arnold games will start at 2:30 p.m. The barbecue will follow at 3:30. Jug's Catering once again will provide the food.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Johnny Rutherford