Bruised Tigers win state title

The Madison County Tigers Special Olympics basketball team won the state championship by defeating Summit County at Bowling Green State University. Members of  the team are: (front row, from left) John Weeter, Dakota Little, Jessica Wiggins, Waymond Harris, Thomas Cunningham; (back row) Paul Hiles, John Moyer, Jeff Horn, John Mulkey and Coach Lincoln Comer. Terry McClain was also on the team. 

The Madison County Tigers’ team colors are white and blue, though black and blue may have been a better fit for the squad’s last two games of the season.

The Tigers, Madison County’s Division III Special Olympics basketball team, blazed through the state tournament with flying colors, despite a spate of injuries suffered in the semi-final and final games.

“I don’t know if it was because it was a late game or because of the sticky gym surface we played on, but we ended up with five players with ice bags at the hotel after the semi-final,” said Lincoln Comer, coach of the Tigers and director of recreation for the Madison County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

In their win over the Allen County Sharks on March 28, three Tigers suffered badly turned ankles, one hurt her hip and another hurt his head. The bumps and bruises altered Comer’s game plan for the final game against Summit County, played the next afternoon at another gym on the Bowling Green campus.

Plan B, he said, was to get the squad’s big guys in there to slow down the game. That idea went by the wayside, however, when scorer Terry McClain ran into foul trouble and center John Moyer left the game with a dislocated kneecap, both in the first half.

“We were so banged up, and it was a one-point game at half-time,” Comer said. “I talked to Waymond Harris, ‘Iceman,’ and told him we needed him to be an offensive player. We had emphasized the team concept all season, but we really needed to go into the second half with an attack-the-basket attitude.”

Harris rose to the occasion, scoring most of his 14 points in the second half of the game. Dakota Little, the team’s leading scorer, turned in a gutsy performance, too, tallying 16 points despite nursing a very tender ankle.

Defensively, Paul Hiles “played with a lot of heart” at center and with a bad ankle. McClain avoided further fouls to finish the game well, as did Jessica Wiggins.

In a game Comer thought his team would limp through, literally and figuratively, the Tigers persevered—putting together scoring spurts that propelled them to an impressive 50-27 finish and a championship title.

“The great thing about this team is that they pick up each other. At half-time, they easily could have said, ‘We’re done. We’re through. We have too many injuries,’ ” Comer said. “But they took matters into their own hands and decided they were not going home without a big trophy.”

The 2008 state championship marks the second state title the Madison County Special Olympics basketball program has snagged. Their first title came in 2003. Three members of this year’s team were on the 2003 squad: Waymond Harris, Paul Hiles and Jeff Horn. In addition to those already mentioned, the members of this year’s squad included Thomas Cunningham, John Mulkey and John Weeter.

The Division III Tigers ended their season with an overall record of 18-1. In those 19 games, they scored a total of 891 points for an average of 46.9 points per game versus their opponents per-game average of 34 points.

Also this season, the Madison County program fielded a second team for the first time. Coached by Butch Scott, the Division IV squad finished 13-4 and made it to the fourth round of state playoffs, where they lost to a team that went on to win the title.

To learn more about Madison County Special Olympics and related volunteer opportunities, call 740-852-7050.

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