LIMA — Achieving success on the basketball court is a worthy goal, no matter when or where or what level.
That goes, whether you’re talking about the Ohio High School Athletic Association, the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the National Basketball Association or Special Olympics.
For the Allen County Sharks Special Olympics men’s basketball team, they have won the right to participate in the state of Ohio’s Division II Final Four March 22-23 at Hilliard.
For Stacy Crouse, the local coordinator for Allen County Special Olympics, it’s all about allowing these athletes to stay active in sports.
“The idea behind Special Olympics is for athletes to be able to compete for the local community and still be involved in sports, whether it is basketball or track and field or whatever sport we have. In Special Olympics, the ages are from as young as 8 years old to the late 40s,” Crouse said. “We were able to have two teams this season, divided into higher-skilled and lower-skilled players so they can compete against players and teams similar to them.
“The mission of Allen County Special Olympics is to provide year-round Olympic-type sports training and competition opportunities for children and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities residing in Allen County. By participating, athletes gain courage and confidence, experience joy, share gifts, skills and friendship with fellow athletes, volunteers, family and the community.”
Crouse further explained the process.
“Our Sharks team is currently unbeaten. When we announced what we were doing at the start of the season, we had 30 players show up; through the process, a few people decided to drop out and we have 12 players on each team, which is perfect,” Crouse said. “That is the maximum you are allowed in tournaments. We have players at 5-5 up to 6-4.
“When we had our play-in game to go to state, the team we were playing was impressive. We were told they were faster than us. Our guys have played a lot of basketball through the years, such as pickup games. Jon Wade and Adam Stolly are our coaches and they do a great job. We have some great leaders, such as Billy. He knows how to play the game.”
Crouse explained that they have a lot of help to bring this about.
“We are entirely self-funded. We have fundraisers throughout the year but we do have some donations from local businesses and establishments to help defray costs for tournaments, for uniforms and other items we need,” Crouse said. “Husky Refinery, for example, lets us use their gymnasium for games and practices and Buckeye Charters makes sure we get to games.
“We welcome fans to attend the games.”
The first game will be at 6:30 p.m. March 22 at Hilliard Davidson High School.
“We’ve decided to go down for that first game and come back to Lima. We won state in 2016 in Division III and by the rules, once you win state like that, you have to move up a division the next year,” Wade said. “There are five divisions in Special Olympics based on skill level; during the tournaments, you play teams in your skill level. We have six players from that team on this year’s team but we have some new players as well.”
Members of the team are Jacob Abbot, Chastain Bassitt, Joe Brown, Mike Burchfield, Anthony Chambers, Billy Dardy, Sean Horn, Jody Phipps, Shawn Prestige, Raysean Smith, Evert Ward and Johnnie Wilson.
Back from the 2016 title team are Birchfield, Prestige, Bassitt, Brown, Ward and Smith.
Wade’s involvement was personal from the start.
“I am the youngest of five kids in my family and have a brother who is hearing impaired. He is 53 years old and I am 50, so learning how to grow up with him made it easier for me to learn about other’s needs,” Wade said. “I’ve been involved for 25 years. I started out in track and field. About four or five years ago, the head coach had to step away and I was asked if I would take over. I talked to Adam Stolly and we came in as a package deal. He’s more the basketball guy than I am; I’m more of the gatherer. He’s played a lot of basketball in his career.
“We have a dynamic team of 12; this is the best team I’ve ever had in my years as head coach. We range in age from 21 to 43. We’re at the second-skilled level. Our second team is playing in Division IV.”
It’s often repeated that one who serves gets far more back than they give. That is true for Wade.
“One thing I do say is that these guys have given me far more than I’ve given them. They are a fun group to be around,” Wade said. “These guys are adults, some of them have children. We don’t run a lot of plays. We run a couple of out-of-bounds plays but basically, the players are assigned to certain spots on the floor and that’s what they try to do. Each one knows their role, whether they are a guard, a forward or a center.”
Stolly comes to his role well-suited.
“I played high school at Lima Central Catholic, graduating in 2000. I played at Capital University until 2004,” Stolly said. “In 2008, they brought in the Lima Explosion semi-professional basketball team – in the new American Basketball Association (no relation to the old ABA from 1967-76 that merged with the NBA) - and I was going to help coach. During the tryout, I started playing against them and decided, at age 30, I could hang with them. I signed and played a season for them. They would eventually be bought out and renamed the Lima Express.
“I got involved in Special Olympics track and field in 2012. The basketball coach had to resign and they were looking for someone to take his place. I talked with John and wondered if anyone had stepped up. They had some trouble finding someone but because John had been involved for so long, he eventually talked me into coming in with him. We had one practice and I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Stolly acknowledged his goals are quite simple.
“Players come and go. We stress fundamentals. I figure this: if we do what we’re supposed to do, it doesn’t matter what the other team is doing,” Stolly said. “Unlike in high school and college, there is no scouting in Special Olympics. That’s why we stress fundamentals, doing what you’re supposed to do.
“I don’t really have any goals as far as wins or losses, just the basics. These are adults and I make sure I treat them as adults. They know what to do; they just have to do it. You just have to trust them. The one thing I have always tried to do is instill confidence in these guys;
“Coaching these guys is a lot of fun. They are a great group of guys. We are right now 8-0.”
For further information, contact Crouse at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 419-303-9515.
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.