The end of June and beginning of July have solidified the athleticism and heart with which the Tuscarawas County Special Olympics teams and individuals compete.

The first event took place the weekend of June 22-24 at The Ohio State University as part of Ohio Special Olympics’ Summer Games. The Rockets team was escorted through town by the New Philadelphia Police Department en route to the three-day competition. The second event took place July 1-6 at a location much farther away - Seattle, Washington - as part of Special Olympics International’s USA Games. 

All in all, the Rockets have shown the state and even the country what they are made of, securing several gold, silver, and bronze medals as well as some ribbons for their efforts. Both events held opening ceremonies that included the torch run, a parade of athletes, and special guests (Summer Games - Butch Reynolds, Jessica Stewart; USA Games - Charlie Puth, Taye Diggs, Marshmello, Allen Stone, Ann Wilson, WWE Superstars, Maddie Poppe, Tim Shriver). Both events took place on college campuses that allowed athletes, coaches, and other volunteers to experience dorm life and the camaraderie that comes with living together.

The message from Butch Reynolds was clear at Summer Games: "Play from the heart." He shared that in all of the athletic events he had seen over the years, one thing stands out to him in regards to Special Olympics - love for the sport. He challenged athletes, "Be brave. Keep doing it for the love of the sport. Nobody can take that from you."

Tim Shriver echoed similar sentiments on a stage 2,464 miles away during the Opening Ceremonies of the USA Games just two weeks later. In his message, Shriver implored the athletes, "You are the leaders the world needs at this critical moment. So show America what it means to shower respect on your fellow human beings. Show the world what it means to choose to include. Show others, where they see tension and fear, show them togetherness."

The 30 athletes representing the Rockets at these two events definitely showed heart, dedication, and leadership in their attempts. They practiced for these events starting in March and demonstrated true grit and determination when it came to competing at the bigger venues. For some, this was their first time experiencing higher levels of competition, while others were veterans to the state games.

When asked what he thought about Summer Games, Craig Gordon (100 m dash, 4x100m relay, and softball throw) shared, "Awesome. I keep working and never quit."

Dalton Sprowl (unified partner in athletics) added that he was very honored to represent Tuscarawas County Special Olympics in the Parade of Athletes and was so proud of his teammates during the relay and all of the other events.

Chelsea Lefler of the Newcomerstown area, who attended both events (Summer Games as a Unified Bocce participant and USA Games as a spectator) stated, "I am so happy for these Rockets. We can do this. We are athletes, and we are awesome."

Matthew Medley (pentathlon) stated, "I am so glad to be a part of the Rockets. I am so proud of my best friend Logan. He worked so hard to get gold, and he got it. I am so proud of him."

Athlete-Leadership Council Chairman, Alex Adkins (bowling), summed it up, "Summer Games were incredible. Everyone should get to experience this."

Each athlete, every volunteer, and the coaches all have their own stories. However, all would agree that the events were inspiring and challenging.

Local Coordinator Richelle Lefler said, "Summer Games and USA Games remind us all of what Special Olympics should be. All of the athletes have worked so hard to set and achieve goals for themselves; they have dedicated themselves to learning and growing as individuals and in their respective sports. These events validate their commitments and serve as opportunities for them to show the state, the country, and even the world, that they will not be defined by their disabilities. Rather, they will rise because of their incredible abilities."

She continued by thanking all of their community partners who helped make the athletes’ dreams possible - Steve Meredith, Holly and Alan Metzcar, the Dover Moose, Indian Valley Local Schools (Bill Love), New Philadelphia City Schools (Matt Dennison), Special Olympics Ohio, Starlight School, the Tuscarawas County Board of Developmental Disabilities, and Wabash Lanes.

There were over 2,600 athletes at Summer Games from across the state of Ohio. Over 4,000 athletes participated in USA Games from every state (except New Mexico) and the District of Columbia. 67 athletes were from Ohio, with four playing bocce. Sue Kloc served as Assistant Bocce Coach at USA Games.

Results from these prestigious events are as follows:

Summer Games - June 22-24 at The Ohio State University (Athletics, Bocce, Bowling)

Athletics

Kaylee Arthurs (gold - softball throw, silver - 100m dash, bronze - 4x100m Relay)

Kristina Chambers (bronze - 100m dash, bronze - 4x100m Relay, 4th - softball throw)

Jehred Bennett (bronze - 4x100m Unified Relay, 5th - softball throw and 100m dash)

Conner DiGenova (bronze - 4x100m Unified Relay, 4th - softball throw)

Craig Gordon (silver - 100m dash and 4x100m Relay, 4th - softball throw)

Steve Hazelip (silver - 4x100m Relay, bronze - shot put and 100m dash)

Shane Johnson (gold - mini javelin, silver - 4x100m Relay, 6th - 100m dash)

Samantha Mastroine (silver - 400m dash, bronze - 4x100m Relay, 4th - softball throw)

Matthew Medley (4th - pentathlon)

Keilan Patterson (bronze - 4x100m Unified Relay)

Rachel Russell (silver - mini javelin, bronze - 4x100m Relay, 5th - 200m dash)

Dalton Sprowl (bronze - 4x100m Unified Relay)

Logan Wise (gold - pentathlon)

Kershel Zehnder (silver - 100m dash and 4x100m Relay, 4th - mini javelin)

Bocce

Chelsea Lefler & Angelica Mendoza (gold - Unified Women’s)

Eric Lingo & Rusty Parsons (gold - Traditional Men’s)

Easton Dillon & Patrick Dillon (bronze - Unified Men’s)

Ginger Stalcup & Sammy Thornton (bronze for Traditional Women’s)

Bowling

Alex Adkins, Wendy Garver, Miranda Milburn, Lonnie Thornton (Gold)

Nathanial Wells (Silver)

Diana DeMonte (Bronze)

Abby Cool (4th)

USA Games - July 1-6th at University of Washington in Seattle, Washington (Bocce)

Shane York (Gold - Doubles, 4th - Team, 6th - Singles)

A "Night with Olympic Champions" event is being planned. Details will be forthcoming.