As summer draws near, many people are planning their family vacations. Some of those will take place at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, with dreams of meeting Mickey, Minnie, and a whole slew of other characters. Others, like five Tuscarawas County residents and their friends and family, have dreams of something else — winning gold.
In April 2021, it was announced that five members of the Tuscarawas County Rockets cheer squad and volleyball team had been selected to represent Team Ohio at the 2022 Special Olympics USA Games. In July 2021, a sixth Rocket was selected to serve as an athlete-coach in Flag Football. In all, 137 other athletes, unified partners, and coaches make up the rest of Team Ohio and will be representing the Buckeye State in a variety of other sports including swimming, track and field, equestrian, and unified basketball.
The trip begins June 4 and will span a week. The event will be hosted by Disney World in Orlando. While teams will be competing and taking part in scheduled activities many of their days, they will also have time to explore the theme parks such as Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom. Opening Ceremonies will kick off on June 5 and will be broadcast at 12 pm EST on ABC and ESPN 3 for those in Ohio who may want to watch. The event will feature the athletes, the Law Enforcement Torch Run, and many celebrities.
Athletes and unified partners attending the USA Games, a national event that takes place every four years, have participated in training over the course of the past year.
Two major training sessions took place in Cincinnati in October and Columbus in April. Team Ohio will be made up of around 90 other athletes and partners. Many did not know each other before being selected to their respective teams but will now work together to compete against teams from across the United States for a chance to capture gold.
Selected to represent Team Ohio (and the Tuscarawas County Rockets) in Unified Volleyball were Rylee Dillon, Rachel Paden, and Rachael Russell. Dillon will be a senior at Tuscarawas Central Catholic, where she is very involved in sports, and is a unified partner. She is the daughter of Pat and Brittany Dillon. Paden is a sophomore at Michigan State University and a 2021 graduate of New Philadelphia City Schools. She has served as a unified partner and is the daughter of Sam and Susan Paden. Rachael Russell is a graduate of Dover and has been with Tuscarawas County Special Olympics for almost 15 years. She is very active in a variety of sports and is the daughter of Larry and Patty Russell.
Selected to represent Team Ohio (and the Tuscarawas County Rockets) in the first appearance of competitive cheerleading in the USA Games were Heather Baker and Emma Ward. Heather has been a part of two Tuscarawas County squads that have captured bronze and gold at the state level. She is the daughter of Peggy Musgrave and Allen Baker of New Philadelphia. Emma Ward was the cheer captain of the gold medal 2022 Rockets Cheer Squad. She recently graduated from Buckeye Career Center. Emma is the daughter of Bob and Tracey Ward of New Philadelphia
Matthew Medley was also selected to be an athlete-coach for the Unified Flag Football team. While Matthew did have to withdraw from the USA Games, he was one of two athlete-coaches selected in the entire state of Ohio. He is the son of April Harris and Chad Medley and is the grandson of Donna Gibson of Roswell.
A rally was held for those attending the USA Games, and the ladies led the Parade of Athletes at the Rockets’ Track Invitational on May 21. A send off dinner is being planned for Tuesday, May 31, at the Midvale Community Building. Updates will be posted to Tuscarawas County Special Olympics’ Facebook page (Tuscarawas County Special Olympics – Rockets Proud) throughout the USA Games.
In 2018, the Rockets were represented in Seattle, Washington, by one bocce player — Shane York. Shane captured four medals and ribbons while he was competing. Prior to that, the last time a Rocket was selected for the USA Games was in 2000.
If you have any questions about how to get involved with or help sponsor over 150 other athletes, unified partners, and volunteers in Tuscarawas County Special Olympics, email the local coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org. The group is currently wrapping up the spring sports season that includes bocce, bowling, track & field, and volleyball. The season will culminate at the end of June (24-26) with some athletes being selected to compete at Special Olympics Ohio Summer Games at The Ohio State University in Columbus.
— Submitted by the Tuscarawas County Rockets