Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who organized the first Special Olympic Games in 1968, passed away one year ago.
Two years after those first games, the Montana Special Olympics was founded.
This Saturday, the first annual Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day, Montana Special Olympics is holding a 40th anniversary gala event at the Mansfield Convention Center in Great Falls. The ceremony will honor 40 key supporters of the Special Olympics in Montana, including Shriver, who have dedicated themselves to the mission of inclusion and acceptance that Shriver started.
The 40 supporters consist of individuals, businesses and organizations that have made lasting contributions to the organization.
The Havre Public Schools district is one of two school districts being honored.
Bob Norbie, president of Montana Special Olympics, said that although it was difficult to whittle the total list of thousands of participants down to the 40 most influential, Havre Public Schools deserved the honor.
“They have been on the forefront of embracing the Special Olympics mission,” Norbie said. “In employing acts of inclusion in school-based programs, they are instrumental in bringing change of viewpoint, especially among youth.”
Shaylee Lewis, area director for Montana Special Olympics and a special educator at Havre High School, explained some of the activities going on in Havre that have warranted this recognition.
Lewis said the program in Havre offers activities year-round. The basketball league just started with the school year. In the winter there is snowshoeing and skiing. Spring brings track and field events, bowling and some aquatic events.
“Being able to do that for our students year-round is really awesome,” Lewis said. “It’s a great opportunity for our students to stay active all year around.”
The Special Olympic athletes from Havre Public Schools practice alongside other student athletes.
They also practice with adult Special Olympics athletes from Havre Day Activity Center, which Lewis said was something unique to Havre. She said it really helps ease the transition for the athletes from the school system into adult care.
Aside from regular programs, athletes have had other exciting opportunities lately.
Four athletes from Havre schools were filmed running a torch across the Canadian border this summer for a video to be shown at the International Torchrunner’s Conference on Tuesday, Oct. 19, in Long Beach, Calif.
Four Havre athletes have become part of the Special Olympic’s Global Messenger progam, where they have opportunities to speak in front of crowds.
“Our school district is really supportive of our programming,” Lewis said.
Havre Public School’s Superintendent Andy Carlson said that it has always been that way.
“It is part of our culture,” Carlson said, “It’s not a set- aside program. It’s not a special program. It’s a part of how we do things.”
Norbie said that the ceremony is more than a look back at the past 40 years. It’s also a look ahead at the next 40.
“We currently serve 2,000 athletes but we’re quite restless for serving more,” Norbie said, “There are more than 10,000 in our state alone that could benefit.”
Carlson said that it is great to be recognized, but it’s just how things work in Havre.
“The district has recognition of just how important that program is,” Carlson said. “I have to believe that when I’m gone that it is such a part of how we operate that these programs will always be available.”