Dylan Obresley and Moses Yellowrobe slapped a double high five over their heads each time one of them finished his throw.
The 14-year-old teammates from Missoula were just a pair of the around 300 who competed in bocce at Playfair Park on Thursday during the second day of the Special Olympics Five Valleys Area Spring Games.
This is Obresley’s first year competing in the Spring Games, and he said although he’s also competing in track and field, bocce is the event he’s the best at.
“We get to practice almost every week at school, and I just get better every time,” he said.
Ten courts rimmed with PVC piping were laid out in the grass at Playfair Park throughout the morning to accommodate all of the athletes.
“Our focus here is to set out to create a championship setting. When they go to these games, they get to feel like the champions,” said Special Olympics area director Jose Diaz.
The event, which celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, started Wednesday with opening ceremonies and the track and field competitions in Frenchtown.
More than 330 athletes from 26 teams came to Missoula for the games, Diaz said. Each athlete can select multiple events to compete in over the three-day games, with around 300 electing to take part in bocce.
Athletes typically spend at least eight weeks practicing for their events, said Evan Lopez, the sports and competition coordinator for the games.
“Most of these are year-round teams that are always practicing,” Lopez said. “When they come to compete, they bring some of their family members, their friends, and people to cheer them on.”
In addition to two- and four-person teams of Special Olympics athletes, Lopez said the bocce competition also included unified teams where volunteers played alongside the athletes.
“We want to get rid of the concept that this is different and set aside for them and have it be about inclusiveness and all of us instead,” he said.
Molly Howard, one of the volunteers who officiated the bocce matches, said she’s helped out with this event for three years, although she’s been involved in Special Olympics longer than that.
In addition to keeping the game moving along, Howard and Sue Priddy, the other officials working on her court, kept up a steady stream of encouragement to each of the athletes when they stepped forward to make their throw.
“This is my favorite event. You really get to work with the athletes the most on this one,” Howard said.
The Spring Games will wrap up Friday with swimming events at the Missoula Family YMCA.
The Special Olympics Montana State Summer Games will start on May 16. This is the final year of a three-year period where the games will be hosted by Missoula.