To appreciate the context in which the Dwarf Athletic Association of America was formed, it is necessary to realize the limited athletic opportunities that existed for dwarf athletes prior to the early 1980’s. While young dwarf children generally had been able to participate in organized sport and recreation activity in their local communities, many of these opportunities would begin to dissipate as the individual would reach the later grades of primary school. The disadvantages of size and body proportion differences would create enough of a disadvantage that many children would no longer find sports fulfilling. In addition, as elite dwarf athletes would enter early adulthood, their opportunity for competitive amateur sports would be all but exhausted. The relatively low incidence of dwarfism made the provision of amateur sports opportunities logistically difficult on a local basis. It was in this context that the need for a national sports association dedicated to the dwarf athlete was formed.
Early in 1984, the organizers of the International Disabled Games approached leaders in the dwarf community about adding dwarf athletes to the U.S. Team that would compete at the 1985 CP/LA (Cerebral Palsy/Les Autres) National Games. The Little People of America (LPA) organization agreed to co-sponsor the CP/LA Games, assisting with the advertising of the Games through the LPA communications network and appointing an official LPA liaison to the Games (the liaison in turn formed a small committee, which became the first DAAA Board of Directors the following year).
Over 30 dwarf athletes signed up to compete at the 1985 CP/LA National Games. This event was the first ever national sports competition held for dwarf athletes. Events at these Games included Basketball, Powerlift, Track (60m and 100m), Field (shot put, discus, and javelin), Swimming (25m and 50m freestyle and backstroke), Table Tennis, Target Shooting, and Bowling and Golf as exhibition sports.
The 1985 CP/LA Games made it obvious that providing athletic opportunities for exclusively dwarf athletes had to be an on-going opportunity. Four members of the dwarf contingent decided to form a dwarf athletic association as well as continue as part of the Les Autres effort. Later it became apparent that the most efficient use of limited resources, especially given the concerns over athlete classification under International Sports Organization for the Disabled (ISOD), would be to concentrate all efforts on the dwarf athletic association.
Planning began immediately for the inclusion of athletic competitions at the 1986 LPA National Conference in Dearborn, MI. The LPA leadership agreed to incorporate six days of competition with the National LPA Conference schedule. Immediately prior to the 1986 Games, the Dwarf Athletic Association of America filed articles of incorporation and formalized their organization. The 1986 International Games brought 117 athletes to Dearborn to compete in the Games. Athletes and observers came from all over the United States and from Canada, Mexico, El Salvador and Sweden. The competition format was the same as the 1985 Games, however, target shooting and bowling were eliminated from the event schedule.
The 1987 National Games, hosted in Philadelphia, PA, were the DAAA qualifying events for the 1988 Seoul U.S. Paralympic Team. As a result, the quality of athletic performance from the 95 athletes at the 1987 National Games was outstanding. Nineteen new national DAAA records were set at the 1987 National Games. In addition, nine dwarf athletes qualified for the 1988 Seoul U.S. Paralympic Team. These nine athletes brought home seven medals for the U.S. Paralympic Team at the Seoul Olympic Games.
Participation in the DAAA National Games continued to grow, with Des Moines, IA (1988); Baltimore, MD (1989); Coeur D’ Alene, ID (1990); Dallas, TX (1991) and San Francisco, CA (1992) hosting the subsequent National Games events.
In 1993, DAAA was proud to host the first World Dwarf Games in Chicago, IL. The DAAA Board and staff worked for four years to host the first international competition for exclusively dwarf athletes. One hundred sixty five athletes from 10 nations competed in this world-class event. The Opening Ceremonies included a procession of athletes with their respective flags. As each national anthem was played, the athletes paraded into the stadium to the exuberant applause of the spectators. When the seven days of competition had ended, representatives of the 10 countries formed the International Dwarf Athletic Federation (IDAF). The IDAF organization continues to facilitate international competitions for dwarf athletes. The first World Dwarf Games were wildly successful. Subsequent World Dwarf Games have been held in Peterborough, England (1997); Toronto, Canada (2001); Rambouillet, France (2005); and Belfast, Northern Ireland (2009).
In addition to our annual National Games, DAAA athletes have proudly represented DAAA and the United States at the 1988–2008 Paralympic Games, Pan Am Youth Games, World Youth Games, World Swimming Championships, World Powerlift Championships, World Table Tennis Championships, World Riding Championships and the DAAAUK Invitational Games.
As we approach our 25th anniversary, DAAA is as committed today as our founders were in 1985 to the mission of the organization – to develop, promote and provide quality amateur events for dwarf athletes in the United States. Our founders’ vision continues to be fulfilled in every dwarf athlete that takes to the field of play – providing inspiration for future generations of recreational and elite level dwarf athletes.
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