- Semi-final game: Friday, March 18 at 4 p.m., Hilliard Bradley High School, 2800 Walker Rd., Hilliard, OH
- Championship game (with a victory Friday): Saturday, March 19 at 9 a.m., Weaver Middle School, 4600 Avery Rd., Hilliard, OH
- Consolation game: Saturday, March 19 at 1 p.m., Heritage Middle School, 5670 Scioto Darby Rd., Hilliard, OH
Story by Taylor Johnson
LIMA – Through hard work and dedication the Allen County Sharks Special Olympics basketball team fought to bring home the title of 2016 West Sectional Champs Division 3 Champs.
Next up: the state championship.
And, going into the tournament, they like their chances.
“I’ve been playing on the team for 12 years and, this is absolutely the best team we’ve ever had. We have the players to win and we have the coaches to get us there,” said Sharks player Michael Birchfield.
Sharks point guard Anton Glenn was on last years team when they fell short at the tournament and took home fourth place.
“We were so close. This year, we can do it. We’ve got the talent,” said Glenn.
For the Sharks, this year has been all about growth on two fronts: fundamentals and teamwork. The players credit first-year head coaches Adam Stolly and Jon Wade for their successful year.
“We really look up to them. Not just as coaches but as people,” said Sharks player Rodney Green.
But for Stolly and Wade, the success is all because of the players.
“Our entire focus as a team has been fun. It’s all about making sure they are having fun playing the game. We were never concerned about winning. However, the more fun they started having, the harder they worked and the better they got,” said Wade.
“Aside from fun, I really focus on the teamwork mentality,” he said. “When we started, there was a lot of ‘I’ and I knew we had to get rid of that to be successful. They learned very quickly how to be a true team and that has made them the team they are today.”
Wade says he and Stolly complement each other as coaches and insists the basketball portion is “all Adam [Stolly].”
“I’m more of the ‘teach life lessons’ guy, but he’s the one with all the knowledge of the game,” he said.
Stolly was a basketball standout at Lima Central Catholic High School and played for the 2000 team that reached Columbus. He played all four years at Capital University, even joining their coaching staff after graduation, before playing professionally for one year.
“As coaches, I think we owe it to them to give this our all by teaching them everything we know about the game and about teamwork. They are on the team to play ball, but they also really want to learn and grow as players,” said Stolly.
“I only know basketball one way. I just show them what I’ve been taught, which is a lot of the fundamentals – talking to each other, communicating and how to shoot. Those key elements, across the board have been consistent with everyone this year,” he said.
The Sharks have gone up against tough teams this season, and Birchfield says the teams growth was evident during a tournament earlier in the year in Van Wert.
“We are a D3 team, and we played a D1 at the tournament…and we won. We didn’t even know they were D1 until we finished the game. That was a cool moment for all of us,” he said.
The state title would make this season even sweeter.
“You hear all about the high school teams in the area going to state, but these guys deserve the same respect. I’ve heard them all say they want this not just for themselves, but for Lima. They’ve earned it and Jon [Wade] and I feel lucky to be a part of this experience – to watch them compete for the title,” said Stolly.
Sharks player Raymond Allen has been on the team since 2007 and has been to state multiple times without a win.
“I’m excited to go back and try again. Win or lose, we’ll be there and we’ll do our best,” said Allen.
“It’s going to take guts, courage, and teamwork, and we’ve got all of that,” said Sharks player Joe Brown.
Chad Whitted, a second-year player for the team, has the perfect spot on his mantle if they win the trophy: next to the last one he won during high school at the state championship.
“It would mean a lot to bring this trophy home, to bring it home and show people we did it,” said Whitted.
Sharks team captain Everett Ward says the community support is what drives him to win.
“We hope people come on out, support us and cheer us on. Mostly, I want people to be there when we take home the championship,” Ward said.
Regardless of what happens, Wade and Stolly both agree on one thing: they’ll be back as coaches next year.
“This will be new waters for us, so we will see how we can keep building upon the previous year. Part of that is getting them properly equipped to play,” said Stolly.
As a nonprofit organization, the team relies on donations and a few small fundraisers throughout the year for all their apparel and equipment. They are in need of new uniforms – from shoes to socks to jerseys – and equipment, including basketballs.
They also need volunteers.
“The contributions are critical, but frankly, we need people. It’s such a small amount of time and you get so much in return,” said Wade.
Volunteering with the team has given Stolly more of a reward than he anticipated.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been fun. It doesn’t feel like ‘work.’ At the end of the day, it’s just a bunch of guys getting together, having a good time and doing what they love,” he said.
“Just playing ball.”
To donate to the Sharks, visit acso-ohio.org. If you mail a check, you can specify what you would like the money to be used for if you choose.
The Sharks 2015-2016 players: Everett Ward, Ernie Lewis, Anton Glenn, Shawn Prestidge, Allen Martin, Christian Bassitt, Chad Whitted, Jamie McIntosh, Richard Tillman, Raysean Smith, Joe Brown, Raymond Allen, Rodney Green, Michael Birchfield
The Sharks 2015-2016 coaching staff: Adam Stolly, Jon Wade
The Sharks 2015-2016 team manager: Brevan Stolly