HELENA — Carroll College recently finished in third place at Special Olympics' National College Championship Week and placed first overall in the Western Division as the top Unified Champion School in the nation.
Carroll also finished top-four in the Inclusion Event category, which is a main goal of the school's Special Olympics Club. More than 8,500 schools across the country are currently participating in Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools programming. The Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools aim to expand to over 10,000 inclusive schools by the end of the 2024 school year.
Created in late 2019, the CC SO Club helps students promote social inclusion through a variety of events or activities on and off campus. The club’s main focus being athletics, with additional opportunities for student leadership and university engagement.
They can offer students regular opportunities to volunteer with Special Olympic athletes and have already partnered with a local young-adult team, the coveted Helena Halos. “So we, our team is like, kind of the best team in the world,” says Kyle Norman, a 10th-year Helena Halo team member, who is preparing for the 2023 Summer Olympic games next week.
From the start, the Special Olympics Club at Carroll College has become a model of a Unified Champion School and, as a result, was the recipient of both 2021 and 2022 Montana Special Olympics Distinguished Service Award for Unified Champion Schools. On campus at Carroll, diversity and inclusion are two aspects of its overall student engagement.
In two years, the club has grown from its two founding members to nearly 90 students as well as many faculty members. During their brief time as a Unified team on campus, the students, and athletes of Carroll’s Special Olympics club have both shown success.
As the current president of the club, Geri Cutler is in her second year leading this role. “Stay passionate and be an advocate for these athletes,” stated Cutler.
Cutler and her squad emphasized how it may seem like an organized way to mentor, coach and support athletes, but Cutler says it’s more than that: “Basically, it’s a friendship, sure, we are here to mentor them, but I honestly learn as much from the athletes as they learn from me.”
This nationally ranked Special Olympics Club intends to offer students with (or without) intellectual disabilities chances to develop physical fitness, demonstrate courage, experience joy and participate in the sharing of skills and friendship.
Gracie Gribbons recently joined the Helena Halos and is most excited about making friends along the way. “It just gave me something to be a part of something, and just be athletic and make new friends and just kind of socialize,” she told MTN Sports.
Gribbons and teammates such as Tanner Davis, Kyle Norman and Sean Leo are all set to participate in the 2023 State Olympic State Games May 17-19 in Bozeman.