The Mahoning County Public Warriors’ Div. 4 adult traditional team will play in the Special Olympics state basketball tournament for the first time at 6 p.m. in Bowling Green.
The 15-player team, composed of players 22 and older with physical/intellectual disabilities, qualified for state after winning three games at a regional in Lorain.
Mahoning, which represents the north region, will play Seneca, the west region qualifier. The Mahoning-Seneca winner will play in the championship game on Saturday against the Jackson Trotters-Hocking survivor.
Today’s losing teams will also be paired off on Saturday in a consolation game.
The Trotters are from the South region champs, while Hocking is designated as the east entry.
Kathy Horvath is the volunteer coach, along with assistants Gary Gordon and the husband-wife set of Melvin Thomas and Carolyn Thomas.
“I just volunteer my time although I don’t have an athlete involved in it,” said Horvath. “I’ve been doing it quite a few years, but this is our first time to state so it’s very exciting.”
In the Lorain regional, Mahoning beat Cuyahoga MBB, 57-26; Geauga, 48-31 and Portage, 54-43.
“We don’t keep stats,” said Horvath, who usually starts the same five players before substituting freely.
The roster includes Mark Hatcher, Rueben Gordon, Tiffany Gordon, Kristin Seidler, Mike Kawecki, Ellis Thomas, Andrew Fallat, Jerry Lyda, Ryan Rizzo, Mike Jubak, Russell Pavlov, Eric Trebus, Lucas Perruzzi, Joshua Shaffer and Mindy Mannion.
The Warriors are a parent-run organization for individuals who attend or attended public schools. Funding is also parent-generated via golf outings, car washes and letter campaigns.
“It’s all raised by us,” said Warriors’ coordinator Bill Rex. “We’re under the Special Olympics-Ohio umbrella, but we’re an entity all by ourselves.”
Although created for sports, the Warriors organization serves a social function, too.
“We’re not strictly sports,” Rex said of picnics and get-togethers.
The Warriors practice at the YMCA and rent the Leonard Kirtz gym for games. The Warriors also compete in bowling, softball and track.
The Warriors are not affiliated with Kirtz/MCBDD, but some Warriors players work at the school as custodians.
The Warriors’ Div. 4 team has had games against one of Kirtz’ two teams as well as against Fairhaven, Ashtabula County and Portage County.
The athletic ability of individuals varies.
“Some have shooting skills, but the skill and coordination of others isn’t there,” said Horvath. “That’s why they’re special in their own way. But they work as a team to put forth great effort.
“It wouldn’t work if not for parents bringing the athletes to games and providing their transportation. The parents are the best supporters the players have.”
One of the difficulties Horvath has to deal with is motivation.
“Last year, some didn’t want to play, but, this year, everybody wants to play,” the coach said of the healthy turnaround. “They just kind of clicked and things are working for them this year.
“As long they’re having fun and playing ball, that’s great. That and sportsmanship are our main goals,” Hovath said of gestures, such as assistant a fallen opponent or shaking hands after games.
“They all have smiles on face and there are lots of hugs. It’s a very caring group.”