Year one was all about getting established and figuring out how to run things. Year two brought the chance to refine operations, improve on successes and address any issues.
But it's the third and final year of the Special Olympics Montana State Summer Games' stint in Billings where it should all come together, the culmination of years of work and preparation.
"When I look over the span of my 20-plus-year career, the quality of the games goes down in my history as one of the best," said Bob Norbie, SOMT president and CEO. "I just have to applaud the extraordinary quality that has gone into games preparation by the volunteer games management.
"Often we talk about the athletes and the focus should be on athletes giving their best. But when you get an entire community that comes together and does the same for the benefit of the athletes, it just shines."
From May 13 to 16, the State Summer Games will bring more than 1,000 Special Olympics athletes, nearly 500 coaches and thousands of family members, volunteers and friends to Billings from across Montana to compete in a dozen Olympic-type sports.
The games rotate between Montana cities every three years and 2014 represents their final year in Billings for about a decade.
While the more than 75 teams from around Montana will begin to arrive and check in on May 13 and some competition begins the next morning, the games will officially kick on May 14 at 7 p.m. with the Parade of Athletes and Opening Ceremonies, capped by the lighting of the Flame of Hope by the Law Enforcement Torch Run.
"We want to remind everyone to join us as fans in the stands," Norbie said. "It costs nothing to be a spectator at the Opening Ceremonies or to go to the competitions."
The bulk of the competition will be held on the 15th and 16th at venues around Billings.
Billings tourism officials estimate that, when all is said and done, the games will have provided a boost of as much as $4 million to the Billings economy thanks to thousands of people spending several nights in town.
Alex Tyson, executive director of the Billings Convention & Visitors Bureau, said that while the econmic boost is great, having the games in town for three years provides much more.
"It’s the camaraderie of having them in town," she said. "Just having them here and getting to know them is so important."
First Interstate BancSystem Vice President Rick McCann and Clocktower Inn owner Steve Wahrlic have co-chaired the Billings for all three years. Both men said that seeing the athletes in their element on the SOMT courts and fields, combined with the dedication of volunteers and management, is a heartwarming experience and one that provides more than just a dollar value to the community of Billings.
"I would have to say that I have never seen the kind of love and camaraderie come out of an event like this before," McCann said. "There is no way that you can measure that. You could never measure that value of what you put in compared to what you get out of it."