STRASBURG — Strasburg High School was the setting for a basketball game that highlighted some of the very best leadership, sportsmanship and athleticism in the sport.

Players from around Tuscarawas County and surrounding areas joined forces to give the spectators a show that had them on the edge of their seats and cheering loudly throughout the game.

It was all part of the second annual Multi-County Friendship Game, started and hosted by Tuscarawas County Special Olympics. What began as a dream of twin athletes Carter and Chandler McConnell, has quickly grown to be a highlight of many other participant’s seasons.

Representatives from numerous county and teams were selected by their coaches and local coordinators to partake in the game. They were selected based upon many criteria including leadership, sportsmanship and bravery in the attempt.

Players were then intermixed with athletes from other teams and asked to work together to produce a basketball game beyond their expectations.

Counties and teams represented in this year’s contest included the Belmont County Eagles, Guernsey County Eagles, Licking County Eagles, Newcomerstown Schools, Stepping Stones Knights, Tuscarawas County Rockets Maroon and Tuscarawas County Rockets White.

Prior to the start of the game, Tuscarawas County Special Olympics athlete-leaders presented awards to two area schools.

Newcomerstown Exempted Village Schools was the recipient of The Spirit of Tuscarawas County award. This award was given to the host school that the athlete-leaders and mentors felt went above and beyond and demonstrated the most cheer and spirit throughout the game.

Newcomerstown Schools hosted both Rockets teams on February 12.

The stands were full of spectators and student groups including the pep band directed by Mr. Joel Hillwig, the high school choir directed by Mr. Andy Hall, the West Elementary choir directed by Mrs. Robin Masloski, the high school leadership team led by Mr. Dustin Kennedy and the cheerleaders coached by Ashley Duhamel. Spectators included school staff, community members, and friends and family members of the Rockets players.

Mr. Mark Wolff, athletic director, was present to accept the award for Newcomerstown Exempted Village Schools.

Strasburg-Franklin Schools received The Community Partnership Award.

Local Coordinator Richelle Lefler shared that Strasburg-Franklin Schools and Athletic Director Mr. Gary Spinell have accepted the Rockets as their own team and have continually gone above and beyond by providing practice space, a place to play games multiple times — coming early, staying late and cleaning up messes, and promoting Special Olympics throughout the school.

"You have continually done more than just host our athletes," said Lefler. "You have accepted and embraced us as your own. This is inclusion at its very best."

Spinell accepted the award on behalf of the school district.

At the end of the night, it was the orange team under the guidance of Patrick Dillon (Rockets White), Phil Hayes (Guernsey), Ashley Metzcar (Rockets Maroon) and Torie Powell (Belmont) that emerged with a 69-65 victory over the black team. The black team was coached by Doug McConnell (Rockets Maroon), Shar Miller (Rockets White) and Lance Richards (Belmont).

Volunteering their time as referees were Mike Ritenour and Mike Spinell.