By Bill Foley
When Catherine Russo took the stage to sing the national anthem during the opening ceremony for the Special Olympics Montana State Basketball Tournament Thursday night at the Butte Civic Center, she probably thought it was going to be a solo performance.
Instead, the Butte High senior was part of a sing along about 1,000 strong.
Most of the nearly 1,000 Special Olympians who filed the Civic Center floor — and many more in the stands — sang the Star Spangled Banner word for word with the 2020 United States Olympic Swimming Trials competitor.
The Olympians were just that fired up for the Games they have been training for all year long.
Russo was one of the many dignitaries on hand to support the Olympians on the eve of the tournament that will begin Friday on 12 courts in Butte and Ramsay.
The national anthem followed the parade of athletes that nearly blew the roof off of the old Butte arena.
“You guys fire me up,” Colt Anderson, a former Butt High Bulldog and NFL player, told the Olympians. “You make me want to go cover one more kick in the NFL.”
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Anderson received a large ovation that was mixed with a few humorous boos by the Olympians who are Bobcat fans when his career at the University of Montana was mentioned.
“You guys inspire all of us,” Anderson said. “I can’t wait to watch you play.”
The tournament will be played in the Mining City the next three seasons. About 500 volunteers will help run the tournament that will include more than 40 teams. The tournament will be held at Courts at the Maroon Activities Center, East Middle School, the Civic Center Annex, Whittier Elementary, Butte High (Richardson and old gym), Butte Central High School, West Elementary and the Ramsay School will be used. In all, 12 courts will be needed at once.
“We’re proud to have you,” Butte-Silver Bow chief executive Dave Palmer said. “That was an amazing entrance tonight. I’m sure the Games will be just as amazing.”
The athletes entered the arena through the “high-five line.” Players danced and cheered as their teams were introduced.
After the parade of athletes, Butte High’s varsity cheerleaders and dancers from Montana Dance Works led the athletes and crowd with a dance along to “YMCA” by the Village People.
Butte Special Olympian Joe Gibson opened the ceremony, which was mastered by Butte High history teacher Chris Fisk.
“We are all very excited to be in the wonderful town of Butte, Montana,” Gibson said.
Mike Cooney, a Butte native and lieutenant governor of Montana, got fired up as he addressed the crowd.
“Tonight and throughout the Games, we are truly pat of something special,” Cooney said. “We can’t wait to see your skills on display.”
The ceremony, which include players and coaches reciting oaths, concluded with the law enforcement presentation of the of the Olympic flame.
Butte-Silver Bow Sheriff Ed Lester lit the flame.