GREAT FALLS — There are 2,000 Special Olympics Montana athletes across 121 programs in 65 communities, ranging from large teams in big cities to some of the smaller teams like the Conrad Cougars in Pondera County.
Karen Burditt is in her seventh year running the Cougars. She serves a the local program coordinator, head coach, chief cheerleader and fundraiser. And also mom.
She came into the role following a dilemma.
“Special Olympics in Conrad was ending. They had no one to take it over,” Burditt said. "We had one gal say she was going to but when I asked when practice was starting, she said it wasn’t. So they were done.”
Karen’s son D.J. had been involved in Special Olympics for 43 years. And she wasn’t about to let the local program in Conrad see a sunset.
“D.J. had been involved in Special Olympics for so many years, it can’t end,” Burditt thought. "And when you don’t want something to end, you step up. I’m almost 70 and getting old to be a coach. But we keep going and we have fun.”
And that’s an understatement.
At any Special Olympics event, almost no on has more fun than the Conrad Cougars, a small team with big personalities.
“We have a small team and it’s good. We do a lot of things,” Burditt said. "We’ll take an occasional trip to the drive in. Just to keep them together. They all work together and they all play together.”
The Cougars work hard to find year-long opportunities, from golf in the summer, to bowling int he winter. And it helps to have incredible support in their community..
“We’re wanting to do the sports, wanting to go to state really bad,” said athlete Jessily Seidler. “And everyone wants us to be in good shape and everything.”
“I have different organizations that contribute to us, we have good support whenever we sell tickets,” Burditt said. "The community supports Special Olympics.”
Running a local program was never in the cards for Karen Burditt. But there’s a group of athletes who are so glad she stepped up to take on the challenge.
“She’s the best coach and she helps us get into the energy and the exercise,” Seidler said. “She does everything for us. She’s the best coach ever.”