Following ultra-successful seasons, both the Fayette County Dragons varsity and J.V. basketball teams will move on to the Final Four in their respective state tournaments.
The Fayette County Special Olympics Division II basketball team (varsity) landed its spot in the state Final Four on March 4 by defeating Columbus Black to win the East Championship. The Dragons advanced to this championship game after defeating the Delaware County Racers on Saturday, March 3 with a score of 63-41.
“In the finals against Columbus Black, we jumped out to a pretty good lead, I think we were winning 41-18 at halftime,” Dragons varsity head coach Brandon Runk, who has lead the team into the state tournament five times over the last seven years, said. “The most remarkable thing about the score is that my leading scorer had zero points at the time. He was dominating the game with rebounds in the first half, he had around 20 rebounds. That is the good thing about this team, they are very selfless. Every game we seem to have someone else leading the team in scoring or someone else stepping up and leading the team otherwise.”
The varsity Dragons will travel to Dover Middle School in Dover, Ohio on Friday, March 23 at 8 p.m. to compete in the first Final Four game. Runk said there will be a slight lapse in time between now and when they play their next game, but suggested the team is very well-conditioned from an abundance of running during training. Overall, the players have been putting forth a lot of a effort in their practices, according to Runk, and he is working to keep every one of his players focused.
“Our first day of practice this year was 108 days until state,” Runk said. “We continued to say that in 108 days we are going to be champions. For the people that make it out to see us, you are going to see something special.”
Also making it to the state Final Four, the Fayette County Dragons Division V team (J.V) had to win four games to qualify. Under the direction of first year Fayette County Special Olympics basketball coaches, Andi Strahler and Erica McKinney, they did just that and landed their spot in the Final Four following a 46-19 win over Jefferson County in the East Championship.
“Our kids are between 14 and 18, and from both Miami Trace and Washington Court House schools,” Strahler said. “One thing that has helped us in these tournament games is our defense. The kids seem to have been picking it up on their defense the last few games and we seem to be playing more of a team ball. We are no longer just dribbling down court and shooting the ball, we are looking for the open player, passing the ball and getting some assists going on now. It is just amazing to see their faces light up when it just clicks, and it’s so rewarding.”
The J.V. Dragons will also begin their state Final Four play on Friday, March 23 at 8 p.m. at Dover Middle School.
“We always tell them the first thing is to have fun,” McKinney said. “If they are not having fun on the court then it is not going to be a fun experience. We also tell them to make sure they are playing with their heart. Every game we up the percentage, per se, of what we expect from them. We are up to 350 percent and they think it is so cool. Otherwise we go over the plays and we have been learning to pressure a lot more. The teams we are playing now are just as good as we are so we know it is going to be a tough road.”
Tim Stewart, Community First Coordinator/Special Olympics Coordinator for the Fayette County Board of DD, explained that it feels great to see the Special Olympics program at such a high point. He said he was proud to be sending two teams to the state finals.
“I can’t say enough about how amazing our coaching staff is this year,” Stewart said. “From Brandon and Caleb leading the varsity team to Andi and Erica leading the JV team, they show up and care about everyone they are coaching. The fact that the coaches are completely volunteers and put countless time into the program without anything in return truly is amazing. I do believe we have one of the best organizations in Ohio because of our volunteers. Not to forget the amazing job that Kelly and Ashley have done with our cheerleaders this year, and all the other behind the scenes people that pitch in anytime something is needed. We could not ask for a better story to set up our fundraiser games on March 21st.”
Stewart and the coaches went on to encourage the community to join them for the Fayette County Special Olympics fundraising games. This year’s fundraiser night on March 21 will feature two games. The first is the JV team taking on “Team HAZMAT,”consisting of some local Hazmat first responders from Fayette County, starting at 5:30 p.m. The second game will be the varsity Dragons taking on the Guns and Hoses (local first responders) at roughly 7:30 p.m.
“These games give the community a chance to come out, show their support and the event becomes like a pep-rally for us,” Stewart said. “Being able to show the community not one but two state bound teams is something exciting. I look forward to a large crowd at the fundraiser games to help cheer on our teams in their quest to bring home the first-ever state title.”
Tim Stewart, Community First Coordinator/Special Olympics Coordinator for the Fayette County Board of DD, provided the information for the article. For more information contact the Fayette County Board of DD at 740-335-7453.
Reach Martin Graham at (740) 313-0351 or on Twitter @MartiTheNewsGuy