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Ashtabula County Special Olympics, Edgewood team up for a night of basketball

Star Beacon - 2/13/2018

Feb. 13--SAYBROOK TOWNSHIP -- Members of the Ashtabula County Special Olympics basketball team joined Edgewood's boys basketball squad, and a few players from the girls team, for a brief practice on Thursday night before a game against Trumbull County.

The Lakers, the special olympic team, and Warriors ran through drills together, turned the basketball court into a dance floor then cleared it back off for the game. Meanwhile, fans filled one side of the gym while an auction table accompanied the other -- all proceeds from the evening went to the Ashtabula County Special Olympics.

Thursday marked the fifth consecutive year that Edgewood coach and event organizer John Bowler's team hosted the Lakers.

"From start to finish, I love doing it," Bowler said. "The Special Olympics is just something that, ever since I started coaching, I've gotten involved with. ... These guys love basketball, you can just see the love. And physically some of them can't play to the level they want to play, but man do they love it."

The night kicked off with the Warriors and Lakers splitting into two different groups and lining up on opposite baselines. Then, a contest between the two sides ensued.

They started with a layup competition and followed with a dribbling relay race.

Whichever team lost, had to run a lap and four-year Laker Johnny Peterson found himself on the losing end of both events. But, if you ask him, it wasn't his fault.

It was "everybody else," he said, jokingly deflecting the blame onto his teammates.

Some Lakers watched in awe during the drills as different Warriors leapt off the ground, dribbled between their legs and especially when Tye Rood threw down a two-handed dunk.

"My team loves this, they think these kids are like LeBron James," Lakers coach Lakeisha Blair said. "They get to bond with these kids and coach Bowler lets them come and ref our games so the kids can get involved and interact and have a normal basketball atmosphere. Kids love it, kids absolutely love it."

The Lakers weren't the only beneficiaries, though.

Edgewood junior Kobe Williams said seeing the smiles on the Lakers' faces just from practicing with him and his peers gave him a new perspective.

"It makes you realize how gifted you are to walk, play, have the ability to play the sport you love, or sports you love," he said. "It makes you realize you have to give back."

After an hour-plus of practicing and dancing, the Lakers took the court for their game against Trumbull.

Jeff Spencer, a Laker whose favorite part of the evening was shooting layups with Edgewood's players, had a simple message for his team prior to tip off.

"Everybody does their part, we pressure the team and do what we're supposed to and listen to our head coach," Spencer said.

Two minutes into the game, Spencer scored a layup off an offensive rebound for the first points of the game. As the ball dropped through the hoop, the Warriors players, rooting for the Lakers from their own student section, exploded in cheer.

"They like us to be their friend, they want someone there, give them high-fives, up their ability, (and make them) feel good," Williams said They look at us like we're in the NBA or something."

And Bowler said his players don't take fact, or privilege, that for granted.

"Our guys appreciate every minute of being able to run and jump and you don't really complain about being slow or being short after you do a Special Olympic event," Bowler said. "(Our) kids really appreciate what they have."

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(c)2018 the Star Beacon (Ashtabula, Ohio)

Visit the Star Beacon (Ashtabula, Ohio) at www.starbeacon.com

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