Special Olympics athletes hone basketball skills at SKC

PABLO – Nine students from the Polson School District traveled to Salish Kootenai College in Pablo on October 15 to compete in a Special Olympics Montana basketball competition.

The hour-long event took place at the Joe McDonald Health and Fitness Center, where athletes competed in three skill competitions: dribbling, passing and shooting.

The scoreboards were on, there was an announcer with a microphone, local volunteers help with drills and record results, and fans shouted encouragement from the stands.

Special Olympics coach Kris Kelley, who teaches special education at Polson High School, said his team was recording practice scores.

“It’s a skills day for them,” Kelley said. “It’s a chance to get scores from someone other than me and see the importance of having to get them.”

Kelley said ideally four teams from county high schools would have participated, but restrictions due to Covid and other circumstances prevented others from attending. The county also has three teams of adults who have been training for a bit longer.

Polson’s students have never competed in Special Olympics basketball competition before and only started training a few weeks ago. They dressed the piece at the SKC event, changing into Polson High School basketball jerseys.

“They were excited to come over and wear real uniforms,” Kelley said, adding that they were working on new jerseys for next year.

Kelley said they will submit their scores for the state competition by November 8 and are expected to have results in about a week after that. Awards and medals will arrive by mail.

The skills tests replace the real doubles matches, 3v3 and 5v5, which could not take place this year due to Covid precautions.

Kelley said his team performed well under the bright lights and the increased pressure.

“They did better today than we did in our training. Some children made baskets for the first time, and others came much closer than them. … They all did well.

The event was officially billed as the Alex Braun Memorial Basketball Challenge. Braun, from Missoula, was a longtime Special Olympics volunteer coach for the Five Valley region of Special Olympics Montana, who died in July at the age of 26 while hiking in the Dartry Mountain Range in Ireland.