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Special Olympics Montana celebrates 50 years, announces 50 influencers

Missoulian - 2/24/2021

In celebration of 50 years of service, Special Olympics Montana (SOMT) is honoring 50 individuals and organizations who have contributed to and championed thousands of Montanans with intellectual disabilities throughout the past half-century.

“From the moment I became involved with SOMT 18 years ago, I knew in my heart being a Guardian of the Flame would be a part of my life,” Billings Police Sargent Tina Hoeger recently commented. “Watching the athletes, I was overwhelmed by their purity, bravery and support for one another. These precious athletes do more for us than we could ever possibly do for them.”

Using sports as a catalyst to include and empower those with intellectual disabilities, more than 10,000 athletes have participated in SOMT over the past 50 years. Athletes have found their voices, become leaders and self-advocates, are gainfully employed, and make meaningful contributions to their communities.

As a grassroots movement that is athlete-centered, family-based, volunteer-driven, and donor supported, SOMT is presently in more than 80 communities across Montana, serving more than 3,400 athletes annually. Through sports, health, education, and leadership programs, athletes are healthier, happier, and are finding their rightful place in our communities.

Missoula-area recipients are Spiker Communications and Strategic Gaming, as well as volunteers WyAnn Northrop, Mary Pittaway, Jim Foley, and Donna Bainbridge of Stevensville.

Billings-area recipients of this honor include athlete Logan Shaw and volunteers Tammy Grimm, Tiffani Coleman, Nick Cladis, Billings Police Sargent Tina Hoeger (LETR), the Andy and Pattie Minchew family, and the Scott family of First Interstate Bank.

Great Falls-area recipients include City Motor Company, Great Falls Public Schools, and athlete Randy Place. Volunteer award recipients include the family of Lauree Roberts and the late Mike Roberts, the Dana, Star and Jamie Darko family, Pam Underwood, Beth and Gaines McFadden, and Vicki Dunham, as well as SOMT employees Pat McCraney and Terri Sappington.

Bozeman-area recipients include former SOMT Board Chair John Parkes, athlete Kenny Hedrich and volunteers Mike and Cyndi Huempfner and Joey Hancock.

Kalispell-area recipients include volunteer Terri Siefke, athlete Stacey Johnston-Gleason of Ronan and SOMT board member Nina Stefani of Columbia Falls, as well as volunteer Karen Kimball of Whitefish.

Helena-area recipients include the Montana High School Association and the Karen & Doyle Davis family of Clancy.

Butte-area recipients are athlete Ruschelle Tyvand and the family of Bobbie Whelan and the late Jack Whelan, volunteers.

Other Montana recipients of this award are the Kaylene and Carl Patten Family of Lewistown, the Steward and Dottie Wilson Family of Havre, athlete Anton Veverka of Richey, volunteer Debbie Olson Sevier of Glendive and athlete Donnie Bailey of Opheim.

Also joining the honoree list is the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation, Town Pump, Montana Knights of Columbus, Tire-Rama, Montana Business Professionals of America, Murdoch’s Ranch & Home Supply, the Montana Television Network, the Montana High School Association, First Interstate Bank, former SOMT CEO Bob Norbie and Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

“During this pandemic and economic crisis, we believe SOMT athletes are a beacon of hope,” says SOMT CEO Rhonda McCarty. “They remind us to persevere. They remind us to be kind and considerate. They remind us that when we play unified, we live unified. They remind us that when we value, respect, and include each other, we become stronger and more resilient—qualities we need more than ever to overcome these extraordinarily difficult times.”

For more information about how SOMT celebrated their 50th Anniversary and is keeping athletes engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic, visit