BILLINGS — Contrary to what some students may say, not every high school class is dull and boring. The Unified P.E. class inside the small gymnasium at Billings West High School is certainly not boring.
And definitely not if your unified partner is as cool as Q2’s Athlete of the Week.
“He is something," Jeremiah Yates said when asked about Drew McDowell. "He is something because he knows what to do.”
Yates is a special needs student (with a knack for broadcasting) in the class. McDowell is a unified partner — a role he doesn’t take for granted. The two often work together to lead stretches and organize others for the day's activity.
“It’s dodgeball, kickball. If we can go outside, we’re playing kickball outside," McDowell explained to MTN Sports during a recent class. "(We're) just always moving."
Except on Fridays when they roll out the yoga mats, turn up soft music and turn down the lights.
The class is an elective and for McDowell, whose mother works with special needs kids, signing on was a no-brainer.
“Now that I’ve grown — I’ve done this class for two years now — I have a connection with everybody,” he said.
After seeing the idea take off at Billings Skyview, Samie Drange is the teacher at West who pushed to launch this class and recruit student partners.
“I said to him in the hall, ‘Hey, join this class,’ and he was like, 'Alright," Drange of McDowell. "He didn’t even second guess it.”
Aside from his 4.3 GPA, McDowell is a three-sport athlete including varsity quarterback for the Bears when he was glad to take snapshots with unified classmates after the game. He’ll play hoops this winter, then turn to his baseball passion this spring after recently signing with South Dakota State as hard-throwing pitcher with heat around 90 MPH.
“I’ve really done well with my fastball, just kind of putting it by people. But if I need to I’ll throw a nice little slider in there,” McDowell said with a smile.
He looks forward to studying physical therapy and maybe eventually working with special needs athletes.
Now as a senior, McDowell takes seven classes a day. One of the neat parts of this particular class is handing out school-colored black and gold T-shirts before the bell rings.
“It’s like the same thing as putting on a uniform," McDowell explained. "I think we get excited to be part of one group."
Yates is quick to confirm.
"We put them on when it’s time for Unified P.E. (and) we try to come together,” he said.
“And our motto on the back (of the shirts) — We Are Stronger Together — it’s been our motto the last couple years," Drange said. "We all feel part of something when we have our shirts on.
"Drew is exceptional. His heart is good and, as you saw earlier, they just kind of gravitate towards him. He’s fun, he’s competitive.”
And, ultimately, he's appreciative.
“I always leave with a smile just with the way these kids impact me,” he said.