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Special Olympics Young Athletes program helps preserve Blackfeet culture in Browning

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Posted at 11:24 AM, May 03, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-03 13:24:20-04

BROWNING — When you think of Special Olympics Montana, you think of the work they do for individuals with intellectual disabilities.

But that’s not all the organization does.

Special Olympics Montana has introduced the “Young Athletes” program to several communities in Montana, including Browning. Young Athletes is an early childhood play program for children ages 2-7. It introduces basic sport skills like running, kicking and throwing.

At the Blackfeet Early Childhood Center in Browning, classes spend part of each day engaging in organized activities in the gym.

“It benefits the kids holistically and ensures that they receive that gross motor development,” said Renee Tatsey, the education and disabilities manager at BECC. "We start to implement it as young as toddlers on up to 5 years old. So it really teaches them about their body and what their body is capable of doing.”

This is the first year of the Young Athletes Program at BECC and it’s been a big hit with teachers, students and staff.

“I first heard of it in 2022 when HeadStart partnered with Special Olympics,” said BECC director Minnetta Armstrong. “I thought it was mostly for kids with disabilities but learned it was for everyone. Teresa Rainsforth with Special Olympics Montana visited us and set up trainings and everybody loved it.”

It’s a fun and simple program that allows students to play and be active in a healthy, directed and supportive environment. It’s also adaptable. And Armstrong plans to tie the Young Athletes program back to the main goal at the BECC: Preserving Blackfeet culture.

“I’ll be doing planning with them this summer, where you see the colors of the reds, greens and blues. We're going to bring our Blackfeet colors into the program so when the children jump to a color we’ll ask them what color are they standing on,” Armstrong said. “So they'll be learning our Blackfeet language at the same time. That’s going to be fun because at this young age children pick it up.”

According to Special Olympics Montana, the Young Athletes Program is currently implemented at 25 sites across the state, with 239 trained adults engaging with 1,400 kids. But Armstrong hopes more will add it soon, especially Native communities.

“My goal is to try to get all the Indian programs in the state of Montana to adopt this,” Armstrong said. “It’s simple. It's just like learning a new skill. But you're learning with little children.”