(Editor’s Note — Results of this past weekend’s games were not available at press time.)

The Tuscarawas County Rockets faced some tough competition as they kicked off their respective runs for the Ohio Special Olympics State Basketball Tournament.

Both teams emerged victorious and were to continue tournament action Saturday, March 10, at 11 a.m. at Strasburg High School in the Area 9 Division IV championship. The winner of that game was to play the Area 6 champion on Sunday, March 11, at Newark High School for the Eastern Sectional title.

Although riddled with cancellations due to the weather, the Rockets teams have had successful seasons as they both improve to 10-0 after their victories March 3-4. Host schools for the season have included Starlight School, Strasburg-Franklin Schools, Newcomerstown Exempted Village Schools, Dover City Schools, Indian Valley Local Schools, Tuscarawas Central Catholic High School, Tuscarawas Valley Local Schools, Garaway Local Schools, and Claymont City Schools.

Local coordinator Richelle Lefler said, "The support of our community and local schools has been crucial to the success of our Rockets. The generosity of our local school districts, our families, and other donors allows for our athletes to compete on a larger scale and to grow not only as individuals but as teammates as well. I cannot stress enough the importance of these partnerships for Tuscarawas County Special Olympics. I am immensely grateful to each and every person involved."

Lefler added she was also grateful for the investment that individuals like Bob Glasgow, Regina Kail, Chris Kail, Carol Rouse, Alan Metzcar, Holly Metzcar, Kim Chaney, and Gary Spinell have made to the program this season.

She also shared that athletes and coaches would be voting on and giving out the first ever "Spirit of Tuscarawas County" award at the conclusion of the season. This will be given to the host school that had the largest and loudest crowd present at their respective Special Olympics Basketball game. She added that this will be a difficult decision due to the tremendous amount of support the Rockets received from a few of the host schools.

The Rockets white team has been coached by Sharlyn Miller and Nick Miller as well as Jack Oberholzer, Patrick Gonano, Patrick Dillon, and Robert Easlick. Rockets veterans, Deric Johnson and Travis Glasgow, have led the charge with both averaging over 18 points and 10 rebounds per game. Shane Johnson and Steve Hazelip have added some strong defensive and ball handling moves to their team, while Logan Wise is averaging four steals per game. Deric Johnson and Hazelip also lead their team in assists (12 and 6 respectively). Rounding out the Rockets White team are Seth Oberholzer (alternate), Easton Dillon, Erickson Farnsworth, Miranda Milburn, Nathanial Wells, Conner DiGenova, Kershel Zehnder, and Shane York. They defeated Belmont County on Sunday, March 4, by a score of 64-41 to advance to the Area 9 Championship.

The Rockets maroon team has been coached by Ashley Metzcar, Doug McConnell, and Caleb McConnell. Rockets rookie Matthew Medley has led the way averaging 21.3 points per game as well as 8 assists and 12 rebounds. Carter McConnell has returned from injury and is averaging 9.6 points and 6 rebounds per contest. Aidan Mahaffey and Alex Adkins have added strong defensive plays under the hoop, while Rachel Russell has contributed some strong ball handling and passing throughout the season. Rounding out the Rockets Maroon team are Chandler McConnell, Jason Murray, Ricky Fries, Max Burnham, Liz Lippencott, Michael Ferrebee, Samantha Mastroine, and Adam Wayt (alternate). They defeated Guernsey County 59-30 on Saturday, March 3, and defending State Champions, Muskingum County, on Sunday, March 4, by a score of 67-53 to secure their spot in the Area 9 Championship Game.

Coaches Ashley Metzcar and Sharlyn Miller both agree that it will be tough to face off against one another in tournament action.

Miller said, "Our teams have grown so close over the season. We went to camp together this season, and the way they all worked together was incredible. It’s hard to think of knocking the other team out of tournaments, but I have told my players that we need to go out and play our game regardless of the opponent."

Metzcar added, "The Rockets are like a family. The way everyone cheers for everyone is great. We are sad to play the other team, but we have decided that we need to go out there and play our best no matter what. The other team deserves our best effort."

Many of the players echoed those sentiments and have admitted that facing each other will be tough. They added, however, that they are ready. Lefler also shared, "We had hoped we made the case for our teams to be in different divisions this year, but obviously that did not happen. We have told our athletes that regardless of who comes out on top, we can cheer each other on and know that we were part of one another’s victories because of the way we have pushed and taught each other throughout the season. I cannot say enough about these incredible athletes. They amaze me at the way that they rise to every occasion and make me proud to say that I’m a Rocket."

Members of the Rockets Pep Club have helped lead the team as they have helped cheer on the players throughout the season. They are coached by Kat Arthurs, Julie Erwin, Sydnee Peters, Rhonda Van Fossen, and Taylor Young. Members include Dolly Alsept, Kaylee Arthurs, Abby Cool, Emily Erwin, Sarah Holmes, Lexi Lacheta, Chelsea Lefler, Chris McDade, Rebekah Rothel, Ginger Stalcup and Nicole Young.