A booming voice over a loudspeaker was heard over cheers of students and families from local schools at the Polson High School field at the end of February.
One-hundred team members took part in the first Polson Unified Snowshoe Winter Invitational Competition on Monday, Feb. 26.
Teams from St. Ignatius, Ronan, Charlo and Polson were represented, all of which are involved with Special Olympics.
“The athletes all had a blast, we had a great volunteer turnout, and we all enjoyed the police officers handing out ribbons,” Kris Kelly, organizer of the event said.
Forty volunteers and 10 members of law enforcement helped through the day, as well, Kelly said.
Kelly explained that after hearing that the Special Olympics of Montana decided against holding the Winter Games in Whitefish this year due to spacing issues, she took matters into her own hands and held the snowshoe event.
Alongside athletes were peers from local schools, which Kelly said is “a perfect start” of Unified Peers, a program that sees regular-education peers compete alongside Special Olympic athletes.
To help fund the day, along with other events, is a tribal grant that Kelly said is set up by the Special Olympics of Montana, which helped fund the competition.
“They wanted to encourage native athletes to participate and decided to start with the Flathead Reservation,” she said.
The grant, which runs through the end of this year, has helped teams build up savings accounts by helping to pay for fees, uniforms, transportation, hotel stays, food and equipment, Kelly added.
That same grant allowed Polson High school and Polson Middle School to purchase 40 snowshoes last year in different sizes.
Kelly said that without the snowshoe event, there would have been a gap in peer involvement, between the State Bowling event from Polson Special Olympics last September, and local area games in Missoula in May.
Going forward, Kelly said that this year she took notes on how to better time the events for next year, stating, “I am excited to plan this event for next year.”
Coming up for next month, the Polson Police Department is currently looking for local sponsors for the Torch Run, which will take place April 31 and May 1.
Monies raised go toward Special Olympians’ healthcare costs. More information can be obtained by contacting Polson Police Officer Oscar Garcia at (406) 883-8211.
For more information on Special Olympics of Montana, visit somt.org.