It was a game, but it was much more than that.
For the second year in a row the Chillicothe Rebels from the Ross County Public Schools traveled to Hillsboro High School on Thursday to take on the Highland County Special Olympics Wildcats in a basketball game played before a packed gym of Hillsboro students in grades 6-12.
A year ago the Wildcats pulled off a 24-23 overtime victory to the delight of the Hillsboro students, and for a while it looked the result might be the same this year. But a Wildcat fourth quarter rally faded late and the Rebels won 40-36.
“Just look around. I think that says it all,” Hillsboro Athletic Director Dave Dietrick responded when asked why the school takes the time to organize the event and let its students out of class to be part of it. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s about basketball, but it’s bigger than that. It’s about all of us coming together.”
Dietrick said Hillsboro staff members, basketball players, cheerleaders, the band, the student body and more all play a part in pulling it off.
“We created some memories here today that we won’t soon forget,” Dietrick added. “For me, the take away is that our student body, they were into it, and they’ll take something special away from this game and bring it back with them.”
Phil Loudin, an assistant to Wildcat coach Nathan Boatman, said that playing at the high school, in front of a packed gymnasium and screaming fans, is all the Wildcats talked about from last year’s game to this year’s.
“Obviously, we want to thank the Hillsboro schools for letting us come in here and do this. It’s exciting, it’s emotional, and it means everything to everybody at the Highland County Board of DD,” Loudin said. “We hope to come back next year.”
On several Wednesdays prior to the game, Hillsboro cheerleaders Bailey Eastes and Emily Hawk took their own time to work with the Wildcat cheerleaders, and they plan to keep meeting with them once a week.
“We actually love those girls,” Hawk said. “They’re absolutely wonderful and they’re so much fun to work with and so enthusiastic. It makes my week.”
Eastes said the Wildcat cheerleaders are the most loving group she’s ever been around and that she enjoys helping them get ready for their big day at the high school.
“It brings so much joy to the public and it’s so exciting to watch them do what they love,” she said.
It was a back-and-forth game with the lead changing hands 12 times. But the Wildcats found themselves down at the end of each quarter. They were behind 25-21 entering the final eight minutes, then three quick baskets gave them a 27-25 lead as the fourth quarter opened. The lead changed hands four more times before the Wildcats took a 36-30 lead with 2:42 left in the contest. But the Rebels scored the last 10 points of the game.
Rebels coach Bob Malone said playing on a large floor in front of a boisterous crowd is special to his team.
“It means a lot. It rings a note in them,” he said. “They want to play a lot more than normally.”
The Wildcat players include Malik Rutldege, who had a team-high 10 points, Isiah Adams, Josh L., Terrell Willis, Matthew Adams, Jordan Humphrey, Amin Harewood, Timmy Adams and Shawn Eldridge.
“It’s a great environment for not only the Wildcat players, but for our students and staff,” Hillsboro Superintendent Tim Davis said. “It’s just a great thing to do.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]