Spectators. Referees. A marching band. Coaches. Cheerleaders. Players. The stage was set for what appeared to be another midweek football game in Tuscarawas County. Only on October 16, 2018, history was being made. This marked the first time that the Tuscarawas County Rockets ever played a home game in the sport of flag football. Strasburg-Franklin Schools and Athletic Director, Gary Spinell, helped make that happen.
The Rockets took an early lead on a completed pass from quarterback, Steve Hazelip, to Deric Johnson. Medley then intercepted two balls to put the Rockets up 20-0. Visiting Belmont County managed to take two to the end zone to bring the score to 20-12. The Rockets answered with a long reception to Alex Adkins and another touchdown by Johnson to make the final score 27-12.
Throughout the game, the crowd was entertained by the Strasburg Band under the direction of Dan Bolen. Mother of a Special Olympic athlete, Dana DiGenova, shared that having the band present throughout the game was incredible. She added, "They were awesome. It really gave it the feel of a football game to have the band here." Member of the flag football team and Athlete-Leadership Input Council, Logan Wise stated, "I loved the band! They cheered for us. They were great!" The band stayed for the entire game and spelled out "Rockets" on numerous occasions and played the fight song any time one of the teams reached the end zone.
Just days before this incredible game, the Rockets had the opportunity to participate in another fall sport favorite - volleyball. This time it was the Tuscarawas Central Catholic Saints, coached by Kristen Trivoli, that helped the Rockets feel accepted and included. The ladies worked with various members of the Rockets volleyball team on passing (bumping and setting), serving, and placing the ball. The event was organized by Coach Trivoli, and all members of the varsity team were on hand to lend their support throughout the clinic. At the end, the Rockets were given their own Tuscarawas Central Catholic Saints volleyball shirts. Some of them wore these to watch the Saints win their first post-season game against Caldwell on Wednesday night. When asked about the event, Athlete-Leader and member of the volleyball team (skills), Chelsea Lefler said, "These girls are awesome. I love Halli. She was so nice to me. Patient. She help me play volleyball. I love Coach Kristen too. She is smart. She knows this game."
Local coordinator, Richelle Lefler, added that the support of the local schools is essential to the success of Tuscarawas County Special Olympics. "These are two amazing examples of inclusion! It is powerful to see people of all abilities and disabilities coming together for a common purpose. The mutual friendships and relationships being developed is encouraging to witness, and it has the potential to impact all of our athletes in a positive way. I am so grateful for the administrators, staff, and students at Strasburg-Franklin Schools and Tuscarawas Central Catholic for going above and beyond for our athletes. There are just not enough words to express everything in my heart as both the coordinator and a mother of an athlete.