The Voice of 2024 Special Olympics Montana Summer Games

May 2024

article by morgan williams | photos courtesy of Special Olympics Montana

“Mind if I tell you about my debut? The stadium [crowd] is going to be lining up at the Metra. I’m going to be running in with my bolt of lightning, and I’ll say, ‘GAME ON!’” Jeremiah Yates is an 18-year-old senior at Billings West High School. He’s also a dedicated Special Olympics athlete with a booming voice who dreams of being a broadcaster. This May, he’ll have an opportunity to test his skills. Billings is set to host the 2024 Special Olympics Montana State Summer Games, and Yates is emceeing the Opening Ceremony on May 15. Though he is a dedicated Special Olympics athlete who has worked hard to be ready to compete at the State Games, he is most excited about making his debut, welcoming spectators and athletes to the Games.  

The State Summer Games are a celebration of abilities and a chance to showcase the talents of athletes with intellectual disabilities. It’s an event that impacts the community, highlighting courage, determination, and a spirit of competition. As such, the emcee selection is a high honor, though truthfully, Yates was an easy pick. His vibrant presence and uplifting spirit resonate throughout West High, embodying the essence of school pride and unity. Yates is well known for his Wednesday weather announcements - he loves to include a joke each week - and he’s frequently seen exchanging high-fives with his peers while giving a rallying "Go Bears!" cry. His enthusiasm and genuine encouragement to those around him have made an undeniable impact. Special Education teacher Sammy Drange attests to Yate’s reputation for fostering positivity, emphasizing his remarkable work ethic as a defining characteristic. 

If you’ve been following along the past few months, several Billings schools have taken the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools pledge. This initiative aims to give educators, students, administrators, and coaches the power to create a more inclusive world and help end the stigma around intellectual disabilities. The initiative has three parts, one centered on Unified Sports, where athletes with and without intellectual disabilities can compete together.   

It’s this initiative that brought Yates and Drew McDowell together. McDowell is Yate’s Unified Partner and classmate. In addition to competing together on a unified relay team, they lead stretches for West High’s Unified P.E. Class. McDowell’s mom taught special education for many years, and even so, McDowell says he was surprised when he became part of the Unified Partnership. You go in closed-minded, and in the end, the athletes teach you a lot. They’ve taught me to always try – each kid has their own things they deal with every day that most people don’t ever have to face, and it’s always encouraging to see them working so hard. McDowell, who’s committed to playing baseball for South Dakota State University in the fall, says Yate’s innate strengths are easy to see – he’s a leader with a big voice who is always looking to help people.  

Drew McDowell & Jeremiah Yates

Yates will co-emcee the two-hour event as part of his emcee duties at the Summer State Games. He’ll have a full plate, as he also plans to run the 150-meter dash and compete in softball, the standing long jump, and the running long jump. When asked if he was ready for the weekend, Yates shrugged and said, “Sure, it’s about having fun; it’s about doing my best.” 

Though he hasn’t started writing his speech, the nerves aren’t getting to him. He said he never thought being the voice of Special Olympics would be so special, but “it just feels amazing.” His take on why he was selected for the role? Because he is a good team member and a good leader. McDowell echoed Jeremiah’s response, noting that Jeremiah is both an encourager and a friend to those around him. 

Yates will take the stage for the Opening Ceremony on Wednesday, May 15, at MetraPark. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the Parade of Athletes commences at 6:30 p.m. The community is invited to attend and cheer on athletes in what promises to be a vibrant showcase of determination, camaraderie, and the enduring spirit of the Special Olympics movement. 

Originally printed in the May 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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