Strasburg hosts Special Olympics Friendship Games

Strasburg hosts Special Olympics Friendship Games
Barb Limbacher

The Spirit of Friendship Award was presented to Matt McPherson, left, Fire Chief Steve Laskey and Strasburg Police Sgt. Brandon Warman.


Over 200 people from 17 basketball teams participated in the Special Olympics sixth annual Friendship Games held Saturday in the Strasburg High gym. Each team wore shirts of a certain color, and the cheerleaders wore pink shirts. Chris Pratt of Strasburg served as the announcer.

Nine special awards were presented to area groups or individuals as follows:

—Spirit of Tuscarawas County Award was presented to Indian Valley Local Schools for demonstrating the greatest level of enthusiasm and cheering when they hosted the Tuscarawas County Rockets. According to Richelle Leffler, local coordinator, this was the first local school to win the award back to back. When they hosted the teams in January, it was no ordinary game. There was a dance-off, a live video, a student section, announcing cheer squads, the presence of community and presents were given from the students to a player.

—The Overcomer Award was presented to Frittz McGinnis. On any given day, there are various things to encounter. Some of the things are easier and more enjoyable than others. Then sometimes things aren’t so good, are scary and tough. During those tough times, people’s true character emerges. Such is the case of McGinnis. He has helped overcome struggles and circumstances. McGinnis has been there for the team.

—The Spirit of Generosity Award was presented to The Ruth Carlson - Starlight Foundation. It allows several opportunities for the athletes such as new sports, making friends and building relationships, and opportunities for showcasing their talents. Over the course of five years, The Ruth Carlson - Starlight Foundation has donated over $10,000 to the Tuscarawas County Special Olympics, which has allowed the athletes to participate in games at Las Vegas, summer games in Columbus and winter games in Bowling Green. Items also were purchased for the athletes during the pandemic.

Cassie Elvin is the CEO and secretary. Jennifer Flaherty serves as president, and Kerri Silverthorn, a volunteer, accepted the award.

—The Spirit of Friendship Award was presented to the Strasburg Fire Department. A few years ago some attended a First Responders vs Special Olympics game in Guernsey County. Letters were sent to local fire and police departments in Tuscarawas County. One department showed up with a few men from Strasburg and other towns. That was the Strasburg Fire Department. They purchased orange headbands for the players.

In March 2021 the game was again played, and the firefighters embraced the Rockets and showed them friendship. This friendship has continued to build, and the department went above and beyond this past December when the athletes needed medical attention. Strasburg Police Sgt. Brandon Warman participated in the 2022 Torch Run for Special Olympics.

—The Help Us Shine Award was presented to Chris Kail, assistant chief of health and safety at Youngstown Air Base Fire Department. He has been employed at the airbase for 21 years, has worked at WTUZ Radio and Big Z Sports for 10 years, is co-host of the Big Z Sports Show, and has been the play-by-play announcer for the past seven years. He also has a radio show on 99.9 each Saturday afternoon.

Kail, for the past several years, has helped announce games for the Rockets and has done anything he could to assist. Kail showcases everything the Rockets do and shares their success on social media.

—The Community Partnership Award was presented to the Tuscarawas County YMCA. The goal of the Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training for individuals of all abilities. Volunteers from the YMCA have rallied around the athletes. Other YMCAs across Ohio also are partnering memberships to the athletes. The local YMCA and its employees are the reason sports such as swimming for Special Olympics began in the county.

When Leffler became coordinator in 2015, she had three goals. One of those was to start a swim team. She connected with Stacy Harlan at the YMCA, and recently, eight swimmers participated in a meet at Bowling Green State University. They began practicing in September. The result was many personal records were met, and several individuals won medals. The YMCA has cheered for the individuals, volunteered to help and hosted a local swim meet.

—The Above and Beyond Award was given to Mike Spinell. He helps secure all the referees, makes any changes that may occur and supports the Rockets in any way possible. If he cannot find someone, he referees himself.

—The Spirit of Inclusion Award was given to Gary Spinell, Strasburg athletic director and dean of students. Spinell often must scramble and rearrange schedules to accommodate the requests.

—The Honorary Rocket Award was present to Charlie Jones. He has been on the sidelines cheering on the Rockets. He often invites them to appear on his local television sports show, “Big Time Sports.” He always asks the athletes how they did in a contest and remembers their names. Gary Spinell accepted the award for Jones.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load