Highland County Special Olympics Wildcats basketball team took on and defeated the Highland County Sheriff’s Office 59-38 on Friday at the Hillsboro YMCA.
The Wildcats hosted the Community Developmental Disabilities Awareness game against the Sheriff’s Office for the second year in a row.
The atmosphere in the small YMCA gym was remarkable as members of both teams wore a smile on their face through out and the crowd roared when a member of the Wildcats got the best of the deputies.
The game began with Wildcat Darius Mustard recording two steals and two field goals in the opening minutes as the Special Olympians jumped out to a 6-0 lead.
Danny Croy of the Sheriff’s Office was able to net a three pointer before the Wildcats rattled off six more points to take a commanding 12-3 lead.
The first quarter ended with the Wildcats leading 16-9. The HCSO finished the quarter on a 6-4 run to trim the lead to single digits heading into the second quarter.
Deputy Bates of the HCSO came out of the quarter break on fire as he scored 15 of the Sheriff’s 18 points in the quarter and tied the game at 27 all with 30 seconds to play in the half.
The ensuing Wildcats possession saw Mustard pull up from about four feet behind the three point arc and nail a triple to give the Special Olympians a 30-27 halftime lead.
The third quarter of play was the difference in the game as the Wildcats outscored the Sheriff’s Office 20-6 and extended their lead to 50-33 at the close of the third period. Malik Rutledge scored nine points in the third to lead the way for the Wildcats.
Harrison Grove capped the initial run in the third quarter with a triple that sent the crowd into a frenzy and Josh Lomangino finished the third with an offensive rebound and put-back to provide the 50-33 score after three.
The most touching moment of the game came in the fourth quarter when Christian White entered the game for the first time. He had to be coaxed off the bench by Event Director at Hillsboro YMCA Chris Tracy, Highland County Special Olympics Coordinator Nathan Boatman and Wildcats coach Phil Loudin.
Upon entering the game it was obvious that the other players and the crowd in attendance wanted Christian to score. Following several attempts Christian was lifted toward the rim by Deputy Bates and eventually fouled. Christian stepped to the line and hit his first free throw to get himself into the scoring column and send the crowd into a frenzy.
Following the game Deputy Croy spoke with The Times-Gazette about the experience he and the other deputies have had over the last year playing against the Special Olympians.
“This is the third time that we have had some sort of sporting event with the Special Olympics. We played basketball with them last year and softball against them this past fall. These kids sit out here and they laugh and they smile and it humbles you. I tell some of the younger guys at work and the younger ladies that ‘you need to be a part of this.’ Because it will truly ground you. The kids love it, you can tell, not one of them that don’t have a smile on their face. Just to be a part of that is an amazing experience. It doesn’t get any better than this, it is humbling,” Croy said.
Deputy Croy finished by talking about Wildcats coach Loudin and what he has done with the Wildcats’ program and the Special Olympians.
“I have the utmost respect for Phil and what he does with this program. He takes his love of sports and passes it down to these kids. So, hats off to Phil for that,” said Croy.
Loudin spoke with The Times-Gazette afterward about his team and what it means for the Sheriff’s Office to participate in events like this with the kids.
“This has turned into a yearly thing, the kids really look forward to it. The Sheriff’s Office comes out here and makes sure it is just about the game of basketball. We try to entertain the fans and get everybody in the score book. We do a lot of things with the Sheriff’s Office and the players really look forward to it because they are an awesome group,” Loudin said.
Reach Ryan Applegate at 937-402-2572, or on Twitter @RCApplegate89.