On Friday, May 5th, Big Sky High school hosted Missoula’s annual spring Special Olympics.


Ellyana Tripp

Missoula high school athletes in opening march.

I have been going to this important local event since elementary school, and it has never ceased to be an amazing experience. 

Our Sentinel athletes have been practicing twice a week, every week since spring break, making sure to take measurements, time trials to track their improvement, and thoroughly prepare for the big day. And it’s not just our athletes who have been preparing: our amazing staff, parents, and community have had their work cut out for them as well. Starting off with a boat load of paperwork (including a ten-page questionnaire), athlete medicals, Covid forms, etc. Then there’s registration…which may seem simple, but has proven itself otherwise.

Ms. House, head SHS special needs teacher and local program coordinator, explained how things are staggered – meaning specific paperwork is due on multiple different days, making it a monumental task to stay on top of everything. Then there’s one of the biggest tasks of all, which is making sure our athletes are taken care of (whether it’s being given proper medication at the proper time, keeping track of athlete’s specific needs, or just caring for their overall safety and well-being). However, despite all the work that goes into an event like this, Ms. House said it best: “At the end of the day, it’s all worth it. To see the enjoyment and the pride and the accomplishments that these athletes feel is worth everything.”

Ultimately, this is what the Special Olympics is about, and what makes it so incredible to be a part of. To be a part of something so positive, whether it be as an athlete, coach, volunteer, or audience member, is truly special. Everyone is always so happy and excited to be there that you can’t help but fall into the pure joy radiating throughout the event, making it an experience you’ll remember, no matter how you’re involved. 

Ms. House also mentioned the fact that you often see the same people every year, which does not surprise me in the slightest. Athletes who have graduated return to show their support and to continue being a part of things, as well as volunteers who never fail to sign up for the next Special Olympics. I was excited she brought this fact up, because one of the biggest factors that go into what makes these events amazing is community involvement. Meeting new people, seeing old friends, and introducing new athletes is so wholesome. In fact, a few of the athletes I had the chance to speak with brought up how they got to hang out with some old friends from middle school, which only made the day better. 

Aside from giving our athletes and community a great day and experience, I asked Ms. House what the end goal of the Special Olympics actually is. She told me that, “For me, the end goal is independence. So they’re building independent skills through these events. They’re learning to communicate with others. They’re learning to follow schedules. They’re learning to keep trying. They’re learning to also build hobbies into their life. So after high school, I really just want these kids to be able to find a purpose, and I think that Special Olympics really helps with that”.

I also got the opportunity to talk with two competitor: Isabella and Angelina. I had asked them how their practice was going and both of them said it was good; Angelina mentioned she wanted more practice, which gave both of us a laugh, and Isabella talked about how the basketball game (played at the assembly to send our athletes off) was a part of practice that made her really happy.  I also asked if they were nervous at all – Isabella gave me an instant yes, which makes me chuckle now, knowing she did amazing in her events and went home with a well-deserved first place ribbon.

Angelina had also said yes, but for a completely different reason. She had told me she would be competing against some people she knew well, which was part of why she was nervous. Personally, I can understand completely. Competing against a friend, family member, or someone you like is something I would be nervous about too!

I also asked Isabelle what her favorite part of the Special Olympics was, and she said, “Just getting a lot. I just get a lot of energy”. Hearing this answer made me smile because I had just talked with Ms. House about this very aspect of the event. Just the feeling, the energy, and the contagious excitement is one of a kind, and a blessing to experience. 

After my interview with these athletes came to an end, I asked for any last words, in which Angelina asked to add that she hopes her cousins can make it there to cheer her on.


When I began this piece, part of my plan was to make it a priority to visit with our Special Olympic athletes for some post-event questions.

Finn, who had participated in not just one, but two, running events. He said he was “exhausted”, but that it was “worth it”. He told me that he thought his classmates all did pretty good and had fun…which is really what the day is all about. I had asked him about what his favorite parts of the day was, and he brought up something I mentioned prior, which was seeing all his friends from Big Sky and his old friend from middle school. He also mentioned that his mom had given him a lucky crystal to keep in his pocket, which warmed my heart. 

While on the topic of good moms, another athlete, Cora, talked about the weather: when it started raining, it didn’t bother her; instead, she made her mom give her all of her jackets, which had us both laughing.

Overall, Cora’s favorite part was earning and receiving her medals. According to Ms. House, she wore her ribbons for days…and honestly I would too. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to see all that training and preparation pay off in the end. One amazing thing that happened for Cora was the fact that her sister was able to attend her track meet for the first time ever. Cora has gone to her sister’s track meets for years, but this year the roles switched. It gave her sister the opportunity to cheer Cora on, and it gave Cora the chance to make her sister proud – I have no doubt that she did.

The last athlete I talked to was Hunter, who participated in bocce ball, running, standing jump, and softball. I asked him how he did, and he gave me a very humble answer. He said “Good, maybe. I don’t know”; despite this vague response, I quickly found out that he got first place in his running event, and threw the softball further than anyone else in the event. So I’d say it’s safe to say he did amazing! I also asked him what his favorite part was, and he didn’t hesitate to say, “hanging out with my friends” – this seems to be a popular answer. He had also mentioned how he got to see an old friend of his that had gone to Sentinel with him before graduating (which ties back to the unmatched community that occurs at the Special Olympics). 

When circling back to Ms. House for a final reflection, one of the first things I asked her was if the rain created any problems; she assured me that despite it raining, it didn’t dampen any spirits and that everyone kept a positive attitude. All of the SHS athletes I talked to were quick to confirm this when I inquired, which didn’t surprise me in the slightest. I have been to Special Olympics in the rain, hail, and burning sun; Ms. House has even been at some events in past years where it snowed all day. The biggest and most important takeaway is that the spirits, athletes, and the event always persevere. No matter what.  

Toward the end of our final chat, Ms. House commented that everyone, not just Sentinel, did an amazing job. One of the things that really left a mark on her was two students who overcame their anxiety to participate for the first time, which is a huge accomplishment.

This determination to overcome is the very thing that Ms. House addressed in our first interview: the goal of building independence and learning to just keep trying. I couldn’t Imagine how it must have felt to see her athletes endure and get past those obstacles to be a part of something so special. 

“When we’re at these Special Olympic events, everyone has a smile on their face. It’s just a very contagious, uplifting environment, and I think that everyone should experience it at some point.”