BOZEMAN — With esports thriving more than ever, it's been redefining what it means to be an athlete.
That’s why Bozeman High is leading the charge across Montana giving Special Olympic athletes with a passion for gaming an opportunity to compete.
“During the pandemic, Special Olympics had posted some things on Facebook that I saw that they were looking to start up some unified esports, so I immediately got in touch and contacted them about how we can get involved," Bozeman program coordinator Joey Hancock explained.
It was that call that led Bozeman High to become a pilot program for Special Olympics Montana, competing weekly this spring against teams from all over the country.
“Every week they were coming in saying ‘okay, now where’s the team from we’re playing this week? Where are they from?'" Hancock said.
With esports being a unified program, teams are made up of students with and without intellectual disabilities battling others in a game called Rocket League.
“It allowed us to explore all sorts of different possibilities as far as different physical limitations," Bozeman High CTE teacher Carl Poeschl explained. It’s really easier to adapt.”
One example is programming video game controllers to fit the need of athletes that might have a hand impairment, which is what Ben Taylor was able to do for his older brother.
“He can’t use his left hand at all, so I have to find a way to only make the right side of his controller be able to do all the actions that the full controller would do," Taylor said. "It’s really impressive to see him do it all with one hand.”
While one of the more favorite aspects of their weekly competition is smack talk, the relationships that have continued to foster outside the classroom.. Is the real winner.
“I love all the competition stuff, but that’s really the piece that when you see what it does of everything that just drives it home and makes it - the impact is just so much more clear then," Hancock smiled. "It’s amazing what it does to promote inclusion in our schools.”
At the end of the summer, Bozeman will be participating in an exhibition at a coaches clinic for Special Olympics Montana with the hope that interest will continue to grow across the state.