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Local coach gets award for commitment, compassion

The Daily Inter Lake - 1/30/2019

Jan. 30--Print Article

Jenny Griswold is the 2018 Special Olympics Montana Coach of the Year.

The award is given to a volunteer or professional who is a certified Special Olympics coach and "best demonstrates the high degree of technical skill, commitment and compassion needed to motivate and train athletes for competition and for life."

A Glacier High School special education paraprofessional, Griswold coaches Special Olympics athletes for Glacier and Flathead high schools and Kalispell Middle School. She has served as the Special Olympics local program coordinator for six years. She said she was surprised and humbled to receive the award. Griswold got involved with the program in Montana 21 years ago at the suggestion of assistant coach Barb Parrish, who she continues to work with. Niki Dykstra also serves as an assistant coach.

Griswold brought with her experience coaching her own children's sports and said it was a natural continuation of her passion for coaching athletics. Special Olympics holds a variety of sports competitions at the state summer games, state fall basketball tournament and area winter games.

"Basketball and downhill skiing are my favorites," Griswold said, regarding coaching.

Each sport encompasses about eight weeks of practice. What she finds most rewarding, are Special Olympics athletes who discover what they can do -- "where no one, or they themselves, believe they can succeed at any type of competition or sport.

"A lot of sports are tough if you're not very comfortable with athletics," Griswold said. "My goal is to build confidence with athletics and help them realize they can succeed."

She recalled an athlete with joint fusions who learned to ski "the whole mountain."

"Things like that are overwhelming to me. To watch the happiness and excitement -- and the parents being proud," she said.

And that success continues on after some students graduate.

"One athlete now participates on the Kalispell Crushers," an adult-level community basketball program, she said, noting that in the beginning, the athlete didn't think Special Olympics was for them, but "realized it's a wonderful place to be," and participated for four years in school.

Working with Special Olympics athletes has changed Griswold as a coach and her perception on what's important.

"The athletes have taught me a lot," said Griswold, who noted her strong competitive nature. "In sports that's definitely commonplace, but you can put a whole different spin on that.

"Sportsmanship is such a big deal in Special Olympics," she added.

And in the wider sports world, Griswold said she feels sportsmanship is always talked about, but not always acted on.

"Way more than anything, they've taught me sportsmanship and the fun you can have playing sports and competing," Griswold said. "The athletes are gracious in winning and gracious in losing. And I needed that."

On Feb. 2, Griswold, for the 12th year, will jump into the frigid waters of Whitefish Lake as part of the Penguin Plunge. Heading up "The Hippies" team, her goal is to raise $1,000. Penguin Plunge proceeds benefit Special Olympics Montana. Kalispell Public Schools benefits from a portion of Penguin Plunge proceeds, which has helped offset Special Olympics travel expenses.

Griswold was nominated for the award by Kim Deist, a parent of Special Olympics Montana athlete in Kalispell Public Schools and member of the Special Olympics Montana Glacier Area Management Team. In the nomination application Deist noted:

"As the LPC (local program coordinator) and as a certified coach, Jenny Griswold demonstrates leadership and promotes athletic competition that challenges her student athletes, teaches them compassion and good sportsmanship, and motivates and advocates year-round training and competition in a variety of sports. She supports an environment of inclusion, respect and awareness for all students."

Deist also nominated Kalispell Public Schools, which received the Special Olympics Montana Outstanding Unified Champion award for its student engagement in and advocacy for inclusiveness.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or

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