It was a rare spring day that actually felt like spring — sun shining, temperatures in the mid-60s, short sleeves sufficient — and the members of Butte's Special Olympics bocce team were taking advantage of the good weather.
Instead of practicing in the Butte Plaza Mall, which allows the athletes some otherwise unused space during the winter, they were outside, set up on several courts set up in a verdant yard off Continental Drive on a recent Friday afternoon.
While the atmosphere was relaxed, the athletes weren't messing around: they were preparing to compete in the Special Olympics State Summer Games May 14-17 in Great Falls.
And the bocce players aren't the only local athletes who will head up Interstate 15 to compete. They will be joined by Butte Special Olympics competitors in track and field, bicycling and golf, among other sports.
All told, 39 athletes plus 19 coaches and chaperones from Butte will attend the games, according to Sheryl Tremis.
Tremis is a direct support professional with the Silver Bow Developmental Disabilities Council and a coach for the bocce teams.
According to Tremis, bocce works well with the Special Olympics athletes because it's an "all-inclusive sport."
"Anybody that can throw a ball can play bocce," Tremis said.
And throw the ball they did.
Paired off into teams of two, each match began with the throw of a white ball called a pallino that then served as a target for the larger, heavier balls the teams threw next.
Or, as athlete Kourtney Hunking, 29, explained it, "We roll it close to pallino and don't hit the person with the paddle."
The person with the paddle is the judge, who flips the paddle, which shows a different color on each side, to indicate which team's turn it is.
When it was Hunking's team's turn, she and her partner, Adam Roesch, switched off with a team comprised of Tvia Broudy and Lori McDougall.
This is Hunking's first year competing in the sport, and she said she's "very excited" to make her way to Great Falls for the State Summer Games.
"It's something new," Hunking said. "I love trying something new — and it's fun."
That was sentiment that Dan Johnson, who was participating alongside his job coach and unified partner Brandy Hungerford, echoed.
"I like to throw the ball," Johnson said.
But Hunking noted that taking part in the games isn't only about the sports, that there's a social element too.
"It's something that disabled people can do and have fun and get to know each other," she said.