On Friday, the community will play host to the Special Olympics Miles City regional games at the community track adjacent to Miles Community College.
Athletes from seven eastern Montana communities will be attending, with Miles City bringing the largest contingent of 18 competitors. Also participating are Culbertson, Forsyth, Colstrip, Plentywood, Glasgow and Fairview.
The games will feature more than 50 athletes, according to Miles City’s Jack Austin, who is on the local organizing committee.
“It’s just fun,” Austin said of working with the athletes. “These kids are really - for lack of a better word - so special. They have such a positive outlook on sports, a good attitude, good sportsmanship.”
He praised the Special Olympics organization for allowing them the opportunity.
“They appreciate the ability to compete,” he said of the participants. “They’re just troopers, and they have such a good attitude about everything.”
Many of Miles City’s athletes are returning competitors with medals to their credit.
“The local team practices with a coach and does all their own events,” Austin said Tuesday. “Yesterday they were out on Haynes running as a group.”
At the games, athletes are placed in divisions by age, gender and ability.
They must be at least 8 years old, but they can participate into adulthood.
The games feature 18 events, all track and field except for bowling, Austin explained. There are sprints and distance runs, shotput, a softball throw, jumping and modified wheelchair obstacle events, to name a few. Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded to the top competitors.
Billings hosts the Special Olympics Montana Summer Games in May, but many area athletes and their families opt for the convenience of the regional games in Miles City.
“Probably for half or more of these kids, this will be their only chance to be in a state games,” Austin said.
Opening ceremonies will begin on Friday at 10 a.m. at the track. Custer County District High School’s Chorale students will perform the National Anthem, the colors will be presented, and the Special Olympics oath will be read.
Austin expects the field events to begin shortly after 10 a.m. and to conclude around noon. Medals will be presented throughout that time, awarded by area law enforcement officers who also participate in the Montana Law Enforcement Torch Run to benefit Special Olympics. This year the torch run is May 14, with the final legs carrying the torch to the opening ceremonies of the Special Olympics Montana Summer Games in Billings.
Austin has participated in the medals ceremony and the torch run for several years, representing Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. In the torch run he usually runs alongside longtime games participant Isaac Baldry, who travels in his motorized wheelchair.
“Isaac is a taskmaster,” Austin said. “He finds the worst possible hills, and he laughs the whole way.”
Isaac’s mother, Theresa, heads the local organizing committee.
“Theresa Baldry, she makes it happen,” Austin said. “She puts together a committee and puts in a ton of effort.”
Committee volunteers this year also include Tim and Sue Miles, Dave and Suzie Klanke, Valerie Pachl, Annette Soria, Katie Keith, Sue Stanton and Kim Lewis.
CCDHS track athletes assist with the games throughout the day.
Austin is always surprised how much planning and detail goes into the games, and how much support they receive from sponsors.
The regional games receive support from Aaron’s; Miles City Police; Miles City Fire & Rescue; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Steadman’s Ace Hardware, Miles Community College and CCDHS Key Club, among others.
After the field events, the Miles City Area Chamber of Commerce will provide a barbecue for the athletes, who will then head over to Recreation Lanes for the bowling portion of the games.
Spectators are welcome at the track, Austin said, but he added that viewing room is limited at the bowling alley.
After the bowling, athletes will be treated to a dance and supper at the Eagles Club.