Inform · Connect · Entertain

Spartan Scoop

Spartan Scoop

Inform · Connect · Entertain

Spartan Scoop


Fall basketball teams compete at state
Karma Patey
A spartan helmet with action indicated

Sentinel students may be familiar with the annual life skills basketball pep rally, but many don’t realize that there is a year-round team. In school, students often feel separated by differences. Despite the difference in ability, students in the life skills program engage in many Sentinel extracurriculars, including an athletics team. 

Sentinel and Big Sky High School’s life skills programs have partnered to create a team for Special Olympics Montana, Missoula Special Olympics. All year long, the team cycles through seasons. The team practices and competes in various statewide competitions. The current fall season sport is basketball. The Missoula team has made bounds, on the court and in the community. 

Special Olympics is an organization that works to bring athletics to people with intellectual disabilities. The Organization works with both youth in schools and adults. It was originally founded in DC by Eunice Kennedy Shriver during the 1960s. 

 Special Olympics Montana has been going strong since 1970 when the state headquarters was established in Great Falls. Since then, it has expanded to 121 programs throughout the state.

Shelby Cassell has been coaching the Missoula Special Olympics team for the past 7 years, at both Big Sky and Sentinel. On top of coaching, Cassell teaches English and PE for the life skills special education department. The job is rewarding, bringing sports to youth who don’t always get a place in Missoula sports. 

The basketball season stretches from September through October with practices, leading up to state this November. Schools across Montana attend, creating a unique experience for students to connect with one another. 

The team has some hurdles to jump this year. Cassell shared that there is a high turnover in staff across schools and that it is going to take a little while for staff to settle into new roles as teachers and coaches. There are typically three to four teams, but due to lower interest and last year’s class of graduates, there are only two this season.  

This year the Missoula team is smaller than before, but this is no detriment to the strength of the team. Cassell praises her current team for being excited to come into practice after long days, working hard, and growing as athletes. “They have been very motivated to play as a team. They have been taking feedback really well, trying to improve their skill. They are taking their basketball team very seriously this year, and that’s really fun to see.”

This year, the state basketball tournament is hosted in Helena. The official theme for this year’s games is “Together We Shine”. Missoula Special Olympics will play 4-6 games depending on the results of each game. 

Teams are divided into groups by skill level, age, and ability to set equal games. In the first matches, one team will play against Butte, and the other against Helena. Teams from across Montana could be the next competitors, so the team has been drilling hard to prepare. 

Beyond the team’s athletics, the development of the team culture has been strong. Cassell takes pride in the leadership role upperclassmen have taken on as they gain more experience. They guide the new athletes, acting as mentors. Cassell gets to see the growth of both the seasoned athletes as leaders and the freshman as new athletes. The positive circle they have formed as a team brings a lot of strength. 

Cassell talks about how important the Special Olympics are for the community. Sports in schools in and of themselves are incredibly important to the health of the student body. They build teamwork and involvement and provide a source of fun. Special Olympics takes this a step further. It provides a safe space for disabled student-athletes to thrive. At competitions, they are on an equal playing field and get to experience team sports being no different than their peers. 

The team provides a rare opportunity to travel for tournaments, “staying in hotels, often for the first time without their parents. They get exposed to a typical experience, bonding with the team, and exploring the community in a more independent but still appropriate way.” The chance to befriend students from across Montana helps to build social skills and expands social circles beyond Missoula alone. Some students haven’t left the town before competing, so this is an unexpendable opportunity.

 Cassell describes this special experience. “The teams from the entire state of Montana, who don’t really get to see each other all year come to these events. You get to see kids that are just like you, that have the same ability as you- and all of a sudden you don’t stand out anymore. You are just like everyone else.”

Missoula Special Olympics acts as a safe community

You get to see kids that are just like you, that have the same ability as you- and all of a sudden you don’t stand out anymore. You are just like everyone else.

— Shelby Cassell

for these students to show their strengths in athletics. Sentinel’s life skills students don’t fail to show how Spartans flourish when determined. The Sentinel athletes on the Missoula Special Olympics team represent the school and city in a positive light.

The basketball season ends November 11th, but that isn’t the end for Missoula Special Olympics. As the team transitions into winter sports, the team members rotate. Some of the events winter may hold include downhill skiing, slalom, cross country, and – most popular – snowshoeing. Beyond this, the spring season will bring track and bocce. Sentinel is excited to see what the next season of Special Olympics holds. 

About the Contributors
Lizzie Mills-Low, Reporter
Karma Patey, Illustrator
the dude who draws the things who isn't the other one