By J.P. Widner/SWT Sports Writer
Blacksburg- The smoke was rising from the tunnel, the Virginia Tech cheerleaders were cheering and the Hokie Bird was dancing as members of the Pulaski Cougars Special Olympic Basketball Team entered Cassell Coliseum Sunday afternoon. After all the 18 teams of Southwest Region basketball players and their coaches had gathered on the Hokie basketball court, Pulaski County High School 2007 graduate Ashley McGrady walked into the arena with the Special Olympic Torch held high. Hundreds of Special Olympic athletes and thousands of fans watched as the flaming torch was passed around the playing area and came to rest at mid-court. “I feel great,” said McGrady right before the ceremony march. “But I’m nervous,” she admitted while standing by volunteer Rhonda Johnson, a para-educator at Pulaski Middle School.
The crowd was addressed by Virginia Tech’s Head Basketball Coach James Johnson. Surrounded by the men’s basketball team, Johnson told the Southwest Regional basketball athletes that each and every one of them inspired him and the Hokies. Erick Green, the leading NCAA Division I scorer in the nation, and global messenger Clay Caldwell, led the athletes in the Special Olympic Oath-“LET ME WIN, BUT IF I CANNOT WIN, LET ME BE BRAVE IN THE ATTEMPT.” The Special Olympic Games were then declared open.
The Pulaski Cougars had already defeated the Lynchburg Wildcats earlier that morning in the Virginia Tech practice facility by the score of 31-15. The Cougars were now in the championship game against the Carroll County Hi Flyers on the Virginia Tech court in Cassell Coliseum.
Carroll County jumped out to an early 12-2 lead after the first quarter. The Cougars continued on a scoring drought in the second quarter and found themselves down at halftime 25-2. Head Coach Janay Rollins apparently fired the Pulaski squad up at halftime. The Cougars out scored the High Flyers 8-0 in the third quarter thanks to tough defense and Jimbo Hylton’s six points. Wayne Jones finished the third quarter with a beautiful reverse layup, and the score was 25-10. Maranda Hamblin scored two points to pull Pulaski to within 13 points, 25-12 as the fourth quarter began. D. Nichols scored with 4:20 left in the game to make it 27-14. Hylton finished the Cougar’s scoring with his team high f
ifth bucket of the game. Jason “Walleye” Wall (PCHS football manager for 14 seasons) played aggressive defense and snagged every available rebound to help the comeback attempt. Jessica Alley continuously stole the ball from the High Flyers. Pulaski fought hard in the second half and outscored their opponent 14-6. The 23 point halftime deficit proved too large to overcome, and the final score was Carroll County 31-Pulaski 16. Directly after the game, the team was awarded second-place ribbons for their brave efforts.
Members of the Pulaski Cougar’s full court 5-on-5 team include Jessica Alley, Meagan Frost, Lee Galloway, Zach Hagee, Dermetria Hazel, Sammy Hodge, Jimbo Hylton, Dora Nicholes, Wayne Jones, Chris Perkins, Doug Riazzi, J.R. Shahan, Jason Wall, Ron Riazzi and Miranda Hamblin. The Cougar players who perform skills include Ashley McGrady, Jessica Jones, Tiana Todd and Britney Adkins. The Cougars are coached by Janay Rollins, Cindy McGuire and April Alley. The program directors are George Marunich and Kathy Davis.
The Pulaski Cougars will compete next Sunday at Roanoke College. On March 9, they will host a basketball tournament at Pulaski County High School. These tournaments will be a tune up for the Virginia State Championships on March 15-16 in Staffordville. If you are interested in supporting the Pulaski Cougar Special Olympics with donations, volunteering, participating in the Polar Bear Plunge (March 2) or refereeing, please contact George Marunich at 643-0334, Kathy Davis at 643-0259 or Rhonda Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.