HELENA — Special Olympics Montana plans to wrap up its time running the annual state basketball tournament in Helena this week, and say thank-you on the way out.

And see you again soon.

The event typically stays in an area for three years, and goes to the next city. However, operations ran so smoothly, it stayed for five years.

During this stretch, the tournament has grown to 1,100 participants from across the state, according to volunteer and games director Jessie Luther.

“It’s unusual to be in one location for more than three years,” Luther said. “We had good volunteers in place, so they decided to keep it in Helena. Helena is a great community and is willing to go the extra mile and work on good causes.”

The tournament heads to Butte next year. There was turnover in the staff in Butte, so there was a year’s delay.

Then it takes a year to set up event locations, coordinate volunteers and generally organize, which is the reason for the second year of delay.

“Helena has been gracious enough to host two more years,” said Bob Norbie, president/CEO of Special Olympics Montana. “Because this is a volunteer driven organization, it didn’t make sense to move on when the community of Helena was ready to host two more years. Helena volunteers and sponsors were eager to keep it in Helena. After Butte gets it, we’ll then look to come back to Helena.”

Helena, Butte and Great Falls have been in the rotation for the tournament. The bigger summer games event rotates between the bigger cities of Billings, Bozeman, Missoula and sometimes Great Falls.

The basketball tournament is one event compared to 11 of the summer games, so the mid-sized cities are ideal. Norbie also likes to give communities a break from the summer games and basketball tournament, which is the reason for the rotation.

The basketball tournament will be Friday and Saturday this week at various gyms in the area, including Helena High, Capital High, CR Anderson Middle School, Helena Middle School and some elementary schools.

There will be at least 150 basketball games played, and up to 180, during the tournament, Norbie said.

“It’s an ambitious schedule,” Norbie said. “It’s enormous. There are 500 local resident volunteers to organize the event. We still have a call to action. We need people to give some time in any number of ways.”

There will be typical 5-on-5 full-court games, half-court 3-on-3 and opportunities for individuals in skill competitions. There are also unified teams where players with and without mental disabilities play together.

Some teams are coed. The age ranges go from 8-year-olds to players in their 80s. There is a place for anyone’s skill set.

“At the end of the day, we are using sports as a platform,” Norbie said. “We provide this opportunity to bring communities together and value our abilities. We have an inclusive community and we need that right now.”

The event has grown partially because Special Olympics Montana finds a way for anyone to participate. It’s reached a point that Norbie is ready to retire from his position after 26 years and help the endowment fund full-time.

The goal is to take the burden off the annual fundraising by Special Olympics so the basketball tournament and summer games can continue to expand.

“I’m eager to do that,” Norbie said. “I want to protect it and leave it growing.”

For now, the focus is on making the final Helena event run well. If you are interested in volunteering, people are needed to help run the games, serve as officials and general support staff.

You can sign up to at the tournament games, which begin at 8 a.m., Friday and Saturday at school venues throughout Helena. Volunteers can also sign up online at www.somt.org or by contacting Jamie Wood at (406) 315-4194 or jwood@somt.org.

“If people need to recover from election fatigue, they can come on out to watch or help,” Luther said. “It’s something nice and positive in the community.”

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