Many people have come to know the Tuscarawas County Rockets for their basketball skills, but they have proven this spring sports season that they are versatile athletes.

The Rockets have had successful performances in their Area 9 Special Olympics qualifiers in three of their 4 spring sports - Bowling, Bocce, and Athletics (Track & Field). Volleyball, their fourth spring sport, is set up as a unified recreational league and does not yet participate in any state qualifying events.

While bowling is finished until the Summer Games state event, the bocce and athletics teams both have two more competitions at Minerva (May 19) and North Canton (May 26).

For the Rockets’ bowling team, it was Alex Adkins and Miranda Milburn leading the way. Both athletes secured gold medals at the Area 9 Tournament that was held at Wabash Lanes in New Philadelphia, Ohio, on April 21, Miranda bowled a 269 on the day to lead all females competing in the event. Alex bowled a 411 and led not only the men, but all bowlers competing in the event. Other top finishers in their respective divisions for the Rockets were Kaylee Arthurs, Abby Cool, Nicholas Stocker, and Jon Wheeler. The rest of the Rockets bowlers (Jacob Amore, Eddie Ball, Jehred Bennett, Diana DeMonte, Conner DiGenova, Wendy Garver, Travis Glasgow, Chris Gonter-Dray, Chuck Heavilin, Chelsea Lefler, Jenn McMasters, Matthew Medley, Karin Miller, Robert Miller, Scott Morrison, Donovan Nolan, Rebekah Rothel, Larry Smitley, Ginger Stalcup, Lonnie Thornton, Samantha Thornton, Nathanial Wells, and Logan Wise) came away with silver and bronze medals as well as fourth and fifth place ribbons.

When asked how he felt about the win, Athlete-Leadership Chairman, Alex Adkins, shared, "There were some awesome bowlers here today. I’m just glad I could come out and represent the Rockets. Bowling is my favorite sport." Coaches for the bowling team are Heather Menefee and Mary Jo Hamma. Coney DiGenova and Kat Arthurs have also helped throughout the season. Guernsey County was the host of the event, and the Rockets competed against teams from Carroll County, Guernsey County, and Stepping Stones.

For the Rockets’ Bocce team, a new division was created. This was the unified division, and it was one of the first times that there have been unified teams at the Area 9 Qualifier at Big Red Stadium in Steubenville. A unified team pairs a Special Olympic athlete with a non-Special Olympic athlete. These teams practice together, compete together, and follow all of the same rules and regulations. The Rockets took four unified teams - Easton and Patrick Dillon, Chelsea Lefler and Angelica Mendoza, Nathan Machan and Steve Meredith, and Erickson and Mark Farnsworth. The Rockets also took four traditional teams - Sammy Thornton and Ginger Stalcup, Shane York and Eric Lingo, Rusty Parsons and Jacob Jones, and Rodney Fuller and Robert Easlick. For their efforts, Easton and Patrick Dillon won gold in the unified division, while Sammy Thornton and Ginger Stalcup also secured gold in theirs.

About the day, Patrick Dillon shares that although he always appreciates a good win, "... being able to be there for Easton and compete with him means way more than any trophy or medal could ever mean to me." He credits his bocce coaches, Sharlyn Miller and Taylor Young, for encouraging him to join the Rockets this season. Athlete-Leadership secretary, Chelsea Lefler, added, "This day was amazing. I am so happy about this medal. I am so proud of these guys - my Rockets family. Now, let’s celebrate!"

For Athletics, the Rockets once again brought some new divisions/events to the competition - the 4x100 Unified Relay and the Pentathlon. For the Unified Relay, two Special Olympic Athletes are paired with two non-Special Olympic athletes; they practice and compete together, and all of the same rules and regulations apply. For the Pentathlon, athletes must complete the 400m Run, the 100m Run, the high jump, the running long jump, and shot put. The day was successful for the Rockets, and athletes competed in multiple events and brought home several medals and ribbons for their efforts. Winning golds for the Rockets were Jehred Bennett (Leg 3 of the 4x100 Unified Relay), William Chambers (Softball Throw), Conner DiGenova (Leg 1 of the 4x100 Unified Relay), Jason Fickes (100m Run and Softball Throw), Jennifer Gerstung (Softball Throw), Craig Gordon (Softball Throw), Steven Hazelip (Shot Put and 100m Run), Samantha Mastroine (400m Run), Matthew Medley (Pentathlon), Keilan Patterson (the anchor of the 4x100 Unified Relay), Rachel Russell (Mini Javelin), and Dalton Sprowl (Leg 2 of the 4x100 Unified Relay). The Men’s 4x100 Traditional Relay Team (Gordon, Hazelip, Shane Johnson, and Kershel Zehnder) came away with the silver medal in a packed division, while Logan Wise brought home a silver medal in the Pentathlon. Other members of the Athletics team who brought home a plethora of silver and bronze medals and fourth and fifth place ribbons are: Kaylee Arthurs, Kristina Chambers, DJ Flaherty, Jennifer Hostetler, Chris McDade, and Kershel Zehnder.

When asked about the day, Jehred Bennett had one word, "Trifecta!" He said this in reference to bringing home a gold (unified relay), silver (100m Run), and bronze (Softball Throw) medal. When asked about Jehred’s participation in Special Olympics, his mom and volunteer, Christy shared, "It is honestly the best thing that I have ever done for him. His confidence has improved so much." She added that he watched his older brothers compete for years and that now through Tuscarawas County Special Olympics, he gets the chance to do so. The Athletics team is coached by Ashley Metzcar and Liz Bender. Assisting them are Dana DiGenova, Taylor Meek, Michala Metzcar, and Andrew Phillips.

Shane York was the torch bearer for Opening Ceremonies. He was selected because he will be representing Team Ohio in bocce this summer at USA Games in Seattle, Washington. He is one of 67 athletes (4 of those being bocce players) from across the state competing at this prestigious event.

The Area 9 Special Olympics Qualifiers will help local organizations from Belmont, Carroll, Guernsey, Harrison, Jefferson, Muskingum, and Tuscarawas (Stepping Stones and Rockets) Counties determine who their representatives at Summer Games will be. Summer Games will be held at The Ohio State University on June 22-24. A send-off will be planned for the athletes selected to represent the Rockets.

Any questions about getting involved in Tuscarawas County Special Olympics as an athlete, coach, volunteer, or community partner can be directed to the local coordinator, Richelle Lefler, at tuscarawascountyspecialolympic@gmail.com.