STRASBURG -- The first Area 9 Special Olympics Multi-County Friendship Game took place recently, with the Strasburg-Franklin Schools, with the approval and assistance of Gary Spinell and Adam Hall, serving as the host of this year's event.

Representatives from Belmont County, Guernsey County, Stepping Stones, and Tuscarawas County Special Olympics joined forces to play each other in an action-packed, exciting game. Players and coaches were divided into two teams and given the task of playing together to promote understanding, sportsmanship, teamwork, and leadership.The red team was coached by Phil Hayes (Guernsey), Doug McConnell (Tuscarawas), and Victoria Powell (Belmont). The blue team was coached by Ashley Metzcar (Tuscarawas), Lance Richards (Belmont), and Josh Taylor (Stepping Stones). Jacob Mahaffey volunteered to be the announcer, and Janel Travis manned the scoreboard. Bob Glasgow and Mike Ritenour officiated the event. Rebekah Rothel of New Philadelphia, sang "The Star Spangled Banner", while Chandler McConnell led the Special Olympics Oath.

After a break-out lead by the blue team in the first quarter, the red team worked together to tie things up. The formidable blue team answered by demonstrating stellar defense and ball handling skills to break ahead. Unwilling to give up, the red team managed to take the lead back and held onto it until the last 12 seconds of the game. The blue team managed to score a basket in that timeframe, putting them ahead 44-43. With the seconds ticking down, the red team tried to make it down the court to secure one more shot, but was unable to do so before time expired. Top scorers for the night included Carter McConnell, Matt Slay, and Nick Vendeta, each with 12 points. Tommy Campbell added 10 for his team.

After the game, all athletes, pep club members, and coaches were recognized with medals. These medals were donated in memory of Jennifer Milburn, a long-time supporter of individuals from all walks of life. Everyone shook hands, posed for some group shots, and left feeling proud of themselves for a hard-fought game. Basketball was the game, but in the end sportsmanship was the name.

Pep Club Members: Kaylee Arthurs, Emily Erwin, Lexi Lacheta, Chelsea Lefler, Chris McDade, Ginger Stalcup, Emma Ward, and Nicole Young

Red Team: Belmont - Ron Donley, Greg Hocking, Lance Marino, Amanda Willis; Guernsey - Adam Finch, DJ Hall, Matt Slay; Stepping Stones - Richard Anderson, Gary Barnes, Tommy Campbell; Tuscarawas - Conner DiGenova, Craig Gordon, Steve Hazelip, Scott Reynard

Blue Team: Belmont - Matt Horvath, Pat Jobb, Mary Miller, Luke Paramanski; Guernsey - Tanner Black, Robert Covington, Charlie Hall, Jason Hall, Cindy Starcher; Stepping Stones - Spencer Grant, Nick Vendeta; Tuscarawas - Carter McConnell, Miranda Milburn, Logan Wise, Kershel Zehnder

Guernsey County head coach Phil Hayes says that the game was awesome and that his team is looking forward to next year's game already; Tuscarawas County assistant coach, Ashley Metzcar, states that she feels the game was a positive experience for everyone involved; and Tuscarawas County Special Olympics coordinator Richelle Lefler says that she and Bob Glasgow have already been talking about ways to make it even bigger and better!