It was a scene even the scribes at Disney couldn’t have written better.
Limping into the Eastern A Basketball Tournament in Billings with an anemic 3-15 regular-season record, the seventh-seeded Custer County District High School Cowboys weren’t expected to make much of a stir/
Their first-round opponent, the third-seeded Sidney, Mont., Eagles, sported a 15-3 record and a lot of confidence; not many gave the Cowboys a fighting chance.
Seated in his customary place court-side, the Cowboys and Cowgirls most loyal fan, a young man who knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity in order to accomplish great things, wasn’t feeling very optimistic either.
“I didn’t think they would win,” said Isaac Baldry, himself a recent graduate of CCDHS.
But every now and then the underdog exceeds expectations, reminding everyone not to count out a team before the game is played; they just might surprise you. Th e same can be applied to individuals.
And much to Baldry’s delight as goodwill ambassador to all things CCDHS sports, that’s exactly what happened.
Isaac Baldry, athlete
Upon meeting Isaac for the first time, one thing becomes clear from the outset: the 21-year-old Miles City resident is a sports junkie. He’s a fixture at CCDHS football, basketball and volleyball games, as well as baseball in the summer.
And chances are the first thing he shares with you after introductions is his devotion to the Montana Grizzlies.
“I love sports, and I come from a big family,” Baldry said through his assistive technology device. “My
brothers and sister are in sports. Since I was little, I have always gone to their games to cheer them on.
Since everyone played, I wanted to play, too.”
Despite living with cerebral palsy since before he was 2 (he has a form of CP known as spastic quadriplegia, which requires him to use a wheel chair and an assistive device to speak), Baldry played T-ball for a season as a youngster.
“Mom helped me bat, and we ran the bases in my push chair,” he said. “I only got to play one year. After
that, no one thought it would work…it was ‘no’ to all the sports I love.”
In 2003, however, Baldry was able to realize his dream to be an athlete again. After attending a meeting with Special Olympics officials, his mother Theresa was told he could participate.
“From then on, I have always been an athlete,” he said. “I have a place where people can come and cheer
me on. I have a place where I can compete. That’s the first way Special Olympics has changed my life.”
Special Olympics changed Baldry’s life in another way. Public speaker After competing in the Special
Olympics in the bowling and wheelchair races, Isaac was approached by the Badlands Bowl Board of
Directors about reciting the Special Olympics Oath at the Badlands Bowl Dinner in 2006.
The bowl, which features graduated seniors from Montana and North Dakota in a football game, is a fundraiser for Special Olympics. It gave Baldry, who communicates with assistive technology, his first taste of public speaking.
“My friend went on stage with me to hold the microphone while I said the oath,” he said. “I said
the oath and a few other things. I talked about two minutes, then turned my chair and ran off the stage.”
He needn’t have been nervous. When he turned his chair back to face the audience, he was stunned by
what he saw.
“Everyone was standing and clapping for me,” Baldry said, beaming at the memory. “I didn’t know
I could do that. I still get butterflies in my stomach when I do a big presentation, but now I speak for up
to an hour, and people pay me to speak.”
2009 PEAK Conference
Baldry has since parlayed his debut into a career as a public speaker and advocate, giving presentations
at such events as the 2009 PEAK Conference on Inclusive Education in Denver about assistive technology,
the Montana Youth Transition conference in 2009 and 2010 and the Montana Council for Exceptional
Children conference in 2010.
He also serves as a Global Messenger for Special Olympics, works for the Montana Youth Leadership Forum as a recruiter and is a board member of the Montana Transition Training, Resource and Information
Center, working with youth across the state on projects and presentations.
Baldry delivered the keynote address at the 2011 CEC Conference and the 2011 Region 5 PTAC Conference, speaking on such issues as the assistive technology he uses to communicate, self-advocacy, alternatives to guardianship and youth empowerment.
“He definitely keeps himself busy,” said his mom, Theresa. “But these are all areas he feels very passionate about, and we support him any way we can.”
For his next endeavor, he expanded his ever-growing repertoire, agreeing to be co-master of ceremonies at the Montana Law Enforcement Torch Run Kick-Off Conference and awards banquet in March in Billings.
“This is something Isaac’s never done before, requiring quite a bit of different loading of sentences
into his computers,” Theresa said. “He’s adding in new jokes today; he thought the ones he had before were a little dry.”
Putting together a presentation with the different facets of Baldry’s technology can at times be a grueling process. A larger speech, such as the one he wrote for the 2011 Region 5 PTAC conference in Denver last year, can take up to 10 hours to program into his computer. After finding the words he wants to use, Isaac must then go back and listen to the speech a portion at a time to verify it’s what he’s trying to say.
“It’s a lot of going back and listening a lot, then writing some more,” Theresa explained. “It takes a lot of time, and then you have to take a break. He’s got another presentation in April, so we’ll be starting work on that next week.”
The number of presentations Baldry gives a year varies, and now that he’s moved into the realm of
freelance speaking, the number should continue to increase.
“It really depends with Special Olympics, because the amount he does for them as an athlete ambassador can fluctuate,” Theresa said. “For the speaking for himself, he’s just starting that, he’s done two of those so far, those were the bigger speeches.
“And with MYLF (Montana Youth Leadership Forum), he’s never sure of how many schools will contact him
about speaking. It changes constantly.”
As with any endeavor, Isaac goes into his presentations with a solid work ethic and a sense of humor, two attributes that have served him well, as those who know him best can attest.
“I think we learned more from Isaac than he learned from us,” said Jaime Ogolin, principal at CCDHS. “He always has a good outlook on life and at times that makes us look at our lives and adjust our priorities. For his whole life he’s looked at it as the cup half full. For him it becomes what can I do, rather than what isn’t possible. And he wasn’t afraid to keep me on task when it came to getting the elevator at the school certified on a regular basis.”
Don Cogger is a staff writer for the Miles City Star.