TALLMADGE — They don’t offer ribeye, T-Bone or porterhouse steaks.
There is no lobster or crab cakes on the menu either.
Nevertheless, a number of Tallmadge fans have been treated to quite a few gourmet meals during the last three winters.
This particular dish, on the other hand, has zero calories or trans fats. Unless you head to the concession stand during halftime, of course.
"We’re like a fine restaurant," Tom Linder said. "You come once and you get that great meal, you’re coming back."
Linder sure has. For him, this "restaurant" is all he’ll ever need to satisfy his insatiable appetite. He doesn’t have to tip his server either.
All Linder had to do was mingle with his favorite chefs — every day of the week.
Unfortunately for Linder, his endless wine-and-dine experience came to a heartbreaking end Saturday. That’s because the longtime coach and sportscaster completed his second year as the head coach of the Tallmadge wheelchair basketball team.
The Blue Devils capped another successful season by finishing as the Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio state runner-up for the third consecutive year.
Tallmadge’s wheelchair team, which is in its third year of existence, lost to three-time state champion Wooster 45-26. The contest took place at Tallmadge High School’s James O. Maddox Court. With the loss, the Blue Devils finished 13-4.
Not surprisingly, Tallmadge played to a packed house as well-wishers from both sides applauded and cheered for all of the players, regardless of their team colors.
As for the home team, this group of wheeling dynamos isn’t planning to go away anytime soon. Their fans sure won’t.
"Usually when people come here once, they’re hooked," Linder said.
The 2019-20 Blue Devils featured 11 players, including seven disabled athletes. Three seniors, Isaiah Johnson, Brennan Heavilin and able-body player Rory Murphy, led Tallmadge, which also featured junior high, middle school and elementary school athletes.
The community has taken notice.
Whenever Linder’s players took the floor for practice or games, a horde of followers usually surrounded them.
Not that Linder minds, though. Being a manager of so many rock stars is a dream come true for Linder, who also works with special-needs children at Tallmadge High School.
"The community gets behind them because they see kids overcoming obstacles every single day," Linder said. "Just to get up and go to school, to live their lives … now they’re seeing kids overcoming sports obstacles every day. They love it. We have a cult following."
Tallmadge’s last game looked everything like a state championship showdown. There were plenty of hard falls and scary collisions. There also were plenty of tears of joy and sadness.
Regardless of the outcome, both sides knew they were part of an event that goes beyond basketball, high school athletics or just about anything else.
When members of both teams took a glance at their opponents, they witnessed something that is practically invisible to most athletes.
They saw themselves.
"There’s a bond with these kids," Linder said. "They look across and they don’t necessarily see an opponent. They see somebody else that goes through what they go through on a daily basis.
"There is a camaraderie there; there is a connection there. There might not be a connection in normal athletic programs when they stand across from each other. This is different. That’s what makes it special."
Seeing a throng of supporters pay regular visits "makes it special" too. Thanks to these inspirational teenagers, "class retreats" have been in high demand since November.
"The kids have such great personalities that they bring out the best in their peers and classmates," Linder said. "We’ll have times when we’ll have the entire second grade come in to support Justin Steele.
"We’ve had times when teachers brought the entire fourth-grade class to a game to support Iyad Yasin. The whole fifth-grade class came to support Shataeya Patton. They spend the day making signs. It’s awesome."
Word seems to be getting around the block rather quickly.
Jackson High School celebrated its first season of wheelchair basketball this winter. The APSO, which is led by executive director Lisa Followay, could add some more teams in the future.
"Any person that their disability keeps them from playing a high school sport is eligible," Linder said. "That’s what we’re trying to accomplish. We want to get more programs and Lisa Followay does a great job with that."
Perhaps the competition will expand to the southern part of the state. Rumor has it that many fine "restaurants" exist where the state capital makes its home.
"They’re putting together an outstanding video to try to get more schools into this," Linder said. "I think it will continue to grow. We hope it grows statewide.
"We hope to get on a bus and go to Columbus to play wheelchair basketball in a state championship at St. John Arena perhaps. That would be cool."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org or @FrankAceto_Gannett.