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Sports program fosters team spirit

PABLO – Saturday’s matchup between co-ed teams from Mission and Ronan featured all the hallmarks of any typical basketball game, including dribbles, rebounds, steals, made baskets and celebrations on both benches, but this was no ordinary high school basketball game. It was the first-ever game played as part of the newly formed Mission Valley Unified Sports Basketball Program.

The game was played at the Salish Kootenai College Joe McDonald gymnasium during halftime of the Lady Bison versus the Rocky Mountain Battlin’ Bears women’s basketball teams’ season-opener. 

There were grins from ear-to-ear as players on both teams had a chance to dribble the ball, take a shot at the basket and help each other with rebounds and passing. 

The game was the latest development for Unified Sports in the Mission Valley. Unified Sports got its start a few seasons ago when Mission Valley hosted a snowshoe event and fielded both bocce ball and track and field teams. Mission, Ronan, Polson and Charlo now have basketball programs.

April Charlo, tribal outreach director for Montana Special Olympics, said Montana Special Olympics was an instrumental component in starting the basketball program. “They gave us a grant to help with uniforms, travel expenses, training supplies and equipment.”

Unified Sports partnered with Montana Special Olympics and schools around the Mission Valley. The league brings together students with and without intellectual disabilities to play sports. “Students with intellectual disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than peers without intellectual disabilities. Through our partnerships with schools, Special Olympics is helping to solve the problem of isolation and misunderstanding in the classroom by bringing students together on the field of competition,” the Special Olympics website states.

The outcome of the game isn’t the bottom line. Players on the court do their best to win, but the sense of cooperation among the teams is the real bottom line and will have a far-reaching and longer-lasting impact than a final score. 

“I love basketball,” said Mission player Brian King at the end of the game. 

King said one of his favorite parts of the game was getting to hang out with friends and teammates, while the fans watched and cheered him on.

The next scheduled game is between the Polson and Charlo team on Nov. 17. The time and place are yet to be determined.

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