Special Olympics cancels statewide winter games

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Montana Special Olympics is canceling its 2018 winter games set to be held in March at Whitefish Mountain Resort.

Special Olympics Montana will not hold its 2018 State Winter Games in Whitefish as previously planned.

Significant growth and expansion of SOMT over the past decade has forced the organization to rethink how it operates, according to a statement by Bob Norbie, president and CEO of Special Olympics Montana, posted on the nonprofit's website.

The games were scheduled from March 4-6, 2018 at Whitefish Mountain Resort, but the organization said last week that it is looking to create smaller regional competitions. The resort will still host a one-day competition this winter.

The 2017 games held in March marked 22 consecutive years with Whitefish serving as host.

“For the past several years we've recognized that we are unable to continue servicing our mission the way we have,” Norbie said in the Dec. 1 statement. “With athlete numbers increasing at a rate faster than we have the capacity (fans and funds) to serve them with our current service delivery model, we need to rethink how we care for our mission and sustain quality program.”

In 2016, there were 2,966 athletes who participated in the games, compared to 1,850 in 2011, according to SOMT. In addition new ancillary programs have been added with athlete participation days having grown.

“However, with this success we are faced with how to sustain our growth,” Norbie said.

Riley Polumbus, Whitefish Mountain Resort spokesperson, on Tuesday said the games are being re-organized.

“Because it's just getting bigger and bigger and requiring more athletes to travel a long way, they've started regionalizing the competitions,” Polumbus said. “There's not going to be one big state games, there's going to be more regional competitions. That means we'll have fewer athletes and coaches coming, one less day of competition, and the parade will go away, but we're still really happy about being able to be a part of it.”

Polumbus said resort staff will be meeting to figure out exactly what the new games will look like, but she expects them to include one day of competition and medal ceremonies. Alpine skiing and snow shoeing is expected to take place on the mountain, and cross-country skiing competitions may happen in Whitefish, she noted.

According to the SOMT website, Special Olympics is looking to regionalize competition by creating area games, while the group's state headquarters staff would focus attention on coaches training statewide, and the 2018 USA Games in Seattle.

Special Olympics plans to pilot program changes in the next couple years to see how well they serve athletes “with sustainable quality sports training and competition, health, education and community-building initiatives.”

SOMT says that alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowboarding will continue to be part of its sports program and athletes will remain eligible for advancement to higher levels of competition such as the World Games.

“By developing and experimenting with a new sports training and competition model, we believe we will establish a better way to sustain our growth,” Norbie said.

Special Olympics Montana is a statewide nonprofit organization that provides year-round sports training, athletic competition, and health-related programming for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

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