The emotion flowing through the gymnasium when the Highland County Wildcats rallied late to defeat the Highland County Sheriff’s Office, 46-43, in a charity basketball game Friday was visible everywhere.
“It was so cool,” said spectator Herb Day. “Christian White, the one that they let have all those foul shots until he made one, that was our grandson. There’s nothing better. I’ll tell you, I was touched by the game the sheriff’s office gave them, too. That was so cool.”
The Highland County YMCA gymnasium bleachers were full, four Hillsboro High School cheerleaders took part, lots of other people helped out, and every time a Wildcat scored the cheers echoed through the gym.
“Anytime the Wildcats play and we have this kind of support it goes down as a highlight of these kids’ basketball careers. They play off the crowed, and they loved it,” said Phil Loudin, an assistant to head Wildcats coach Nathan Boatman, who put the game together.
The Wildcats finished the season 10-2 and Loudin said the goal next year is to take the Wildcats to the state tournament for Board of DD teams. They would have to qualify through sectional, district and regional tournaments just like high school teams.
But before that happens, Highland County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Danny Croy said there will be a rematch of Friday’s game next year.
“We had a blast. It was a good time,” Croy said. “I think what we did here today meant the world to those kids. But more so to us. It’s not every day that we get to give back to the community like we did today. I mean, we work with the community every day, but I was tickled to death when they asked us to do this. This is a great idea and there’s going to be more to come because we had a blast, and so did the kids.
“There’s not a doubt in my mind that this will definitely be a yearly event. We’ll make it happen.”
The Wildcats trailed 27-22 at halftime and 37-34 after three quarters, but rallied in the closing minute, even if they may have had a little help from referee Shane Wilkin and his partner.
“I think it was the athleticism and conditioning of the Wildcats that prevailed at the end of the battle,” Wilkin joked.
Boatman said it was great to see so many people show up to help and to cheer for his team.
“The support from the community; it meant everything,” Boatman said.
Highland County YMCA Program Director Chris Tracy said the YMCA was glad to support such a worthwhile community cause.
“That’s part of our mission. That’s why we’re here,” he said. “Just to have a team like the Wildcats (from the Highland County Board of DD) here and give them a place to play; it was great.”
March is Developmental Disability Awareness Month.
“I get to work with some of these kids in their school districts and we just had a good time with it,” said HCSO Sgt. and DARE officer Bobby Stroup. “It meant a lot to them, and like Danny said, to us, too. They’re wonderful people.”
The game capped a memorable season for the Wildcats. It came a couple weeks after Hillsboro City Schools administrators let the high school student body out of classes to watch the Wildcats beat the Ross County Public Schools Rebels, 24-23, in overtime at the high school gym.
“The kids and adults, it meant everything to them to know they’re part of the community,” said Kraig Walker, community resources director at the Highland County Board of DD. “Some of them are transitional kids and this was their first game, and they just lit up. It was amazing to see all the support, with the Hillsboro cheerleaders and everyone else, that we had out there. I can’t say enough how much it meant.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.