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Revitalized Blue Pony Special Olympics program thriving in Havre

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Posted at 9:25 PM, May 16, 2024

HAVRE — The COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on Special Olympics Montana teams across the state, and it forced the program in Havre to go dormant.

But the Blue Ponies are back and thriving thanks to a selfless leader who stepped up when called upon.

For four years, Havre Special Olympics athletes couldn’t compete in their favorite sports. As the COVID-19 pandemic halted competition, the Blue Pony program fell by the wayside. They spent four years dormant, despite serving dozens of athletes in Havre. It was hard on the athletes

“It was hard for a time,” said athlete Sway-Ann Byrd.

But that’s when veteran special education teacher Kassie Johnson stepped in.

“Our public school district put out that there was a need for our community,” Johnson said. "And so being a special ed teacher and just having a passion and love for our athletes and our members of our community that have disability, I knew that that was something I wanted to take on.”

Johnson took over the program last year. It wasn’t easy to re-build, but with the help of volunteers, coaches and support from the community - the Blue Ponies grew quickly.

"So we had the opportunity to participate in bowling this fall. We had 16 different athletes participate in bowling and now we're up to 23 athletes from our community,” Johnson said. "So it has significantly grown within that short period of time.”

But most importantly, it’s provided the athletes with sense of togetherness that was missing while the program was shut down.

“They were very saddened and disappointed when the program went away. But once it came back, the word spread and we had so many people reach out and want to participate,” Johnson said. "We grow together, we laugh together, we cry together. It's we are so close and we have a group chat that goes on, so we stay connected.”

That’s the Blue Pony way.