If support and encouragement are the foundation of a strong team, Team GavMad showed about as solid a base as possible on Thursday.
Made up of 9-year-olds Gavin Gristy and Madisyn Lords, from Shelby, the team competed in bocce ball at Rocky Mountain College against much bigger and older competition.
After his throws, Gavin would usually report back to his teammate with what he'd learned.
"Don't throw the ball out of bounds," he offered at one point.
But the next round, he was satisfied with simple cheering.
"Let's go Madisyn," he chanted. "Let's go!"
The teammates — nicknamed GavMad by their coaches and other teammates — were just two of the athletes competing in the second day of the summer games at numerous venues across Billings.
More than 1,000 athletes from all corners of Montana are in Billings through Friday to compete in 13 Olympic-style events for the summer games, as they will be each summer through 2014.
Organizers said that if the first two days of competition are any indication, the bar for the next few years' summer games has been set pretty high.
"Things are really going well," said Nolan Taylor, Special Olympics Montana's training and competition coordinator. "Billings has been an incredible host community. You better knock on wood because I'll say things are going about as well as they can."
Across town from the RMC bocce competition, where hundreds of athletes, coaches and family members had gathered, a smaller group got together at Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium for track and field competitions.
A few seconds after cruising through the 800 meter walk, a breathless Lisa Johnson, 25, high-fived her coach, Todd Hoar, who brought Johnson and 22 other athletes to the games from Butte.
"I love it," she exclaimed. "Everything. The games, the (opening) ceremonies, the dance, all of it."
Across the field, a few dozen athletes lined up to take their turns at the standing and running long jumps, stretching in the field or waiting patiently for volunteers to call their names.
Hoar said the athletes train year-round, and competing, as well as often earning a medal, in the summer games is a reward for that work.
"They practice hard training for that," he said. "We see their eyes light up and they say, 'Oh, I did it.'"
Nearby, Anne Trout and her teammates from the Lighthouse Christian Home in Kalispell were getting ready for their events, standing near the track and chatting.
She served on the SOMT board for six years and said that experience showed her the games give many of the athletes a voice across the state.
"I think it gives them an opportunity to see how important they are around the state and it gives them the opportunity to see other athletes they don't see," she said. "We live in Kalispell and came all the way here and said, 'So this is what it's like.' But it's good."
Taylor agreed and said it gives the athletes, coaches and the community a chance to show off.
"They're not athletes with disabilities, they're athletes with abilities," he said. "That's clear to see. To be able to sit back and watch what it means to these athletes and these coaches, it's really a chance for them to come somewhere and be treated how they want to be treated."
Other events through the day included powerlifting, equestrian, aquatics, cycling and bowling. Later in the evening, Billings restaurants planned to host athletes and coaches for a Dine Out Night.
Back at the bocce competition, Gavin and Madisyn walked happily through the grass toward the awards podium, not at all concerned or upset that they came up a few points shy of taking the match.
The duo explained how to play bocce, noting that they were a bit nervous at first but settled in pretty quickly.
"We just hold the ball, and then we throw it," Madisyn said.
When asked about his favorite part of the games, Gavin grinned and casually tossed his arm around Madisyn's shoulders as they neared a crowd waiting for the awards announcement.
"We're best friends," he said.