Family plays large role in Billings Special Olympics, gets state recognition

2012-10-22T00:15:00Z 2014-08-25T09:35:00Z Family plays large role in Billings Special Olympics, gets state recognitionBy ZACH BENOIT zbenoit@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Any program that works with hundreds of people while managing volunteers and activities throughout the year takes plenty of work and a little finesse, and Special Olympics Montana's Billings adult program is no different.

But the folks running the show have an ace up their sleeves that eases the workload a bit: family.

While Pattie Minchew is co-coordinator of the Billings adult program, which works with nearly 200 athletes and coordinates their activities, her family — husband Andy and daughters Amber and Amanda — is there every step of the way. Amber is an athlete, and the entire family participates as volunteers.

"The fun part is actually just seeing the success they have," Minchew said. "That's the reward you get."

For their efforts — coaching, organizing and helping out wherever necessary — Special Olympics Montana recently named the Minchews its Outstanding Family of the Year.

"They have the deepest kind of commitment that may have started with their daughter but very quickly spread to all of the other athletes in the area," said Vicki Dunham, Special Olympics Montana's chief operating officer.

Family members are quick to point out that they don't do it to get awards or a pat on the back.

"It's nice in a way, but we don't ever want to be in this for the attention," Pattie Minchew said. "We do it all for the athletes."

Managing the adult program in Billings, one of the state's largest, takes a lot of time, especially during the summer in advance of the state games.

Pattie Minchew coordinates more of the paperwork and office matters for the program while Jeremy Freyenhagen oversees coaches, athletes and on-the-ground activities.

The adult program requires volunteer coaches for every sport and people to organize events, transport athletes and make sure competitions run smoothly.

Andy and Amanda Minchew help to coach and drive athletes, pick up items, make signs and do anything else needed.

"But we can't do our job without people helping us," Andy Minchew said. "It takes everybody helping everybody out to make it all work."

The family got involved with Special Olympics in 1998 when Amber signed up to compete. They then started coaching — which they still do in multiple events — and Pattie took over as co-coordinator eight years ago.

For Amber, that meant having her family nearby and involved as she competed. At this point, it's more apt to ask in which events she hasn't competed, having already logged time in track and field, bowling, swimming, cycling, floor hockey and basketball.

As to why they've stayed involved for more than a decade, the Minchews say it's simply the athletes, an answer echoed by many who volunteer.

"Do you see that face," Amanda Minchew said, pointing at her sister. "How could you not?"

That's something that's caught on with their employers as well, with NAPA Auto Parts, where Andy works, hiring two athletes and Pattie's employer, Oakland and Co., helping with the program.

"A lot of it is just seeing their growth all around and the joy they get from the accomplishment," Pattie Minchew said.

Other Special Olympics Montana awards for 2012 are Athlete of the Year, Jena Lawson, of Great Falls; Outstanding Corporation, NorthWestern Energy; Coach of the Year, Doyle Davis, of Clancy; Outstanding Adult Volunteer, Terri Siefke, of Kalispell; and Outstanding Youth Volunteer, Tia Davis, of Clancy.

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