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Big Sky State Games founder Tom Osborne dies in Colorado
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Big Sky State Games founder Tom Osborne dies in Colorado

BILLINGS — Big Sky State Games founder Tom Osborne has died.

The Colorado Springs Sports Corporation announced the death of Osborne, who was CEO of the organization.

Osborne was a Billings native and graduated from then Eastern Montana College in 1978.

Osborne, 65, died in his sleep Wednesday morning, according to the Colorado Springs (Colorado) Gazette. 

He was the executive director of the BSSG from 1985 until he resigned to accept the position of executive director of the National Congress of State Games in the fall of 1996. At the time, the NCSG was a membership organization for 40 states that were developing or holding the grassroots Olympic-style sports events. 

"Tom loved sports and had an incredible vision to bring the Olympics closer to Montana. We will continue his legacy through the Big Sky State Games and he will be deeply missed,” stated Liana Susott, executive director of the Big Sky State Games on the group's Facebook page. 

The Big Sky State Games have been held in Billings every year, with the bulk of the events in the summer, since the inaugural event in Billings in 1986 that featured 12 sports and attracted more than 3,400 athletes from 106 communities in the Treasure State. While the event was scaled down this past summer because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, in normal years it attracts 10,000 athletes, which was the case in 2019 when 29 of the 36 sports offered were held over three days in mid July. 

"He had that vision to bring the Big Sky State Games to Montana and his enthusiasm of sports. He is an amazing person that was thinking outside the box," Susott told The Billings Gazette and 406mtsports.com. "He thought more about than just him, he was thinking about our whole community and state."

Added retired BSSG executive director Karen Sanford Gall: "He started the Games. It was his vision. He got it going. He was a gift to the community. That’s for sure."

Osborne served as the executive director of the National Congress of State Games through 2003 according to a release from the Colorado Spring Sports Corporation. He also served as president of the National Congress of State Games. In 1992, when Osborne was reelected president of the NCSG, the organization represented more than 500,000 amateur athletes. By holding the post of president of the NCSG, Osborne served on the board of directors of the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Osborne, who went to high school at Billings Central, also played basketball and golf at Eastern and in 2000 was inducted into the Montana State Billings Hall of Fame and Distinction. He was a four-year letterman from 1974-78 for the Yellowjackets and also played golf at the school from 1977-78. 

He began his work with the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation as the group's president and CEO in 2003. With Osborne at the helm, the Rocky Mountain State Games grew from 14 sports and 2,000 athletes to more than 20 sports and 10,000 competitors. 

Osborne was a driving force behind some of the biggest events in the Pikes Peak region, including the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. He also was involved with the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame. 

Gall, who worked with Osborne for several years before succeeding him as executive director of the BSSG, said Osborne "was a good guy, just a really nice person and he really cared about the NCSG, the Big Sky State Games and sports for all. He was a very giving person of his time. He was still down in Colorado working hard." 

Susott said that when she started with the BSSG as an intern, Osborne was already in his role with the NCSG but was directing the organization from offices in Billings. After taking the job with the NCSG, Susott said Osborne spearheaded the setup for the BSSG opening ceremonies for several years.

"He was a great guy," she said. "He was so positive and so thoughtful of others and he just loved sports." 

Beginning in 2006, the BSSG has annually presented The Osborne Volunteer of the Year Award in honor of Osborne and his family.

While living in Billings, Osborne was also a member of the Billings-based Midland Roundtable, which is "devoted to foster and perpetuate more and better sports." He served as the organization's president in 1987. He was also instrumental in starting the Roundtable's annual Athlete of the Year Banquet in 1989.  

Osborne is survived by his wife, Amy; daughter, Ellie (Cameron) Kuehne; son, Ben (Kassy) Haughton and, granddaughter, Charlie Rose Kuehne according to the Colorado Springs Sports Corporation release.

Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at john.letasky@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL

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