MISSOULA – When Toni Hill attended a Special Olympics event she was curious as to why there was no golf team from Missoula
“I said, ‘Why isn’t there a team?’ And she said, ‘No one’s taking it up to coach,’ and she said, ‘What would you like to do about that?'” said Hill.
Hill and her husband decided to take the leap and volunteer to create a Missoula Special Olympics golf team. They worked with the Ranch Club and figured out a way to let the team use the facilities. After that, five players took the opportunity to learn and grow in the sport of golf, and Hill says the players have truly bought in.
“They’ve never missed a practice out of 14. They have worked diligently enthusiastically and positively,” said Hill.
Four out of the five athletes had little to no knowledge about the game and were even picking up a club for their first time. But one player on the team, Stacey Johnston-Gleason, is making strides, not only here in Montana, but across the globe, competing internationally.
“Recently I went to Macau, which is outside of Hong Kong. I competed and got a gold medal there in my division,” said Gleason.
Not only is she growing in her own career, but Gleason is playing a huge part in her teammates’ careers. Gleason has been golfing longer than she can remember and has been a Special Olympics athlete for an impressive 33 years.
“She is our star player. She comes to us with lots of experience in golf and lots of experience in the Special Olympics, so she’s a gift to us and has helped guide us, and we are wishing her luck, too,” said Hill.
It’s been a little less than a year since the team formed, and they have been practicing since March. When asked what the goal of the team is, Hill believes it has already been accomplished but doesn’t want to limit how far the players and team can go.
“I think we’ve accomplished that goal — we’ve offered it to five athletes that volunteered to be on the team and we hope to grow for next year. Our goal is to offer it to even more athletes,” said Hill.
Hill proudly stands by her decision to create this team and hopes that more people will be able to make the changes they wish to see themselves.
“Anyone who ever thinks about volunteering, you know, you hesitate. Do I have enough time? Can I do this well? We just stepped in with both feet and took a chance, and we’ve never been happier to have seen what happens when you step up,” Hill said.
The Otters finished off their practice with the chant they do every practice: “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”