POLSON — The Polson Pirates Special Olympics team received statewide recognition Wednesday when it was named the 2020 Local Program of the Year during a special ceremony at Polson High School.
“We have about 170 local programs throughout the state, so for them to win out of all of those programs is a really big deal,” Special Olympics Montana Vice President of Outreach Mandy Patriarche told MTN News.
Patriarche delivered the Local Program of the Year award to the Polson Pirates as teammates and coaches celebrated on stage.
The Pirates received nominations from all over the state for the award, which showcases a program with the greatest improvement and positive attitude throughout the year.
“It’s always great when we’re at a state games and Polson shows up, you know they’re here, their excitement, the sea of purple, so I think they’re very visible because they participate in anything that they can,” said Patriarche.
The award ceremony included the passing of the Special Olympics Torch from Polson law enforcement and a special surprise from head coach Kris Kelly who had not seen her team in person since March of 2020.
“I have a medically fragile child who’s also an athlete, and so until she was vaccinated and safe, I just didn’t have the chance to be around people, and luckily the vaccines came out a little sooner or I wouldn’t have seen them until next fall,” said Kelly.
Kelly has been coaching Special Olympics at Polson High School for the past eight years. She makes sure athletes are always having fun while making great memories every step of the way.
“You never leave an event without your cheeks hurting and your ribs sore because you’re laughing and smiling, and it just changes your perspective on life,” said Kelly.
Melesa Butler served as acting in-person head coach for the Pirates all school year during the pandemic training athletes outside in the wind, rain and snow.
She said the 'never give up' attitude from her Polson team embodies the Special Olympics spirit.
“It’s all about the kids, they love doing this and it was determined from the beginning that if there’s a way to get it done, we were going to get it done,” said Butler.
The Polson Pirates are still staying busy on the track currently competing in this year’s state summer games.
This is the first time in school history that the Polson Pirates have been named Local Program of the Year.