A chance to cheer at special sporting event

By the Missoulian editorial board: Publisher Mark Heintzelman, Editor Matt Bunk, Opinion Editor Tyler Christensen

Washington-Grizzly Stadium can hold more than 25,000 fans. At full capacity, the stadium’s population is larger than that of all but the six largest towns in Montana, and the roar from the crowds can be heard from the other end of the Missoula Valley.

Griz fans fill the stands to watch the state’s top athletes and cheer their favorites. They come to be part of a larger community and take part in a shared experience.

If Griz Nation wants to witness some real feats of athleticism, stirring examples of sportsmanship and truly special sporting events, it will pack the stadium for the Opening Ceremonies of the Special Olympics Montana 2016 Summer Games at 7 p.m. on May 18.

Volunteer registration just opened and there is already a rush to sign up. Many of the volunteers who helped out at the Summer Games last year are lining up to do it again.

After all, it takes hundreds of volunteers to take care of the millions of details that go into organizing a sporting event of this magnitude. From setting up the bocce court to running the T-shirt table to handing out awards, the individual jobs for volunteers are widely varied and each is indispensable.

But one of the most important volunteer opportunities is the chance to join the “fans in the stands.” Volunteers can officially register to watch the games as spectators in the “cheer section.”

It’s a good way to guarantee a seat at these crowded competitions. As Missoula saw at last year’s Summer Games, the event makes an enormous splash that lasts for days.

This year, Missoula is hosting the games for the second time in a three-year turn. More than 1,100 athletes from 8 to 80 years old and from all across Montana are expected to attend with their friends and families. They will form approximately 70 teams and compete in 11 different Olympic-style events involving nearly 500 coaches and 2,000 volunteers.

Those are just the measurable numbers. The stories behind these numbers are countless, and the heart behind the stories is limitless.

The local economic impact, on the other hand, is quantifiable – and it’s huge. The Destination Missoula Convention and Visitor Bureau calculates the Summer Games fills 1,700 hotel room nights, not to mention many restaurants, shops and museums as well. This economic activity supports more than 300 jobs, and contributes nearly $1 million to the local economy each year.

The monetary value of sporting events is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but athletics is valued for less-tangible reasons as well. Sports encourage individuals to accomplish amazing feats of athletic ability. At their best, they showcase the best of humanity: dedication, self-discipline, sportsmanship.

Special Olympics Montana does all this and more because it also promotes the spirit of inclusiveness, camaraderie and respect for differences. The official Special Olympics athletic oath is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” It is, at its core, a nonprofit sports organization that helps highlight the very special abilities of those with intellectual disabilities.

So take note, sports fans: The powerlifting event will wow you. And you don’t want to miss the kayaking competition. The triathlon, of course, is not to be missed either.

OK, every sport in the Special Olympics is special in its own way. Come see for yourself.

Teams will start registering on May 17, and the majority of events will take place May 18-20 on the University of Montana campus. For a comprehensive calendar of events and list of volunteer opportunities go to www.somt.org. Check out the same link to register as a volunteer, or call the volunteer hotline at 406-523-4343.

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