By JP Widner/SWT Sports Writer
Salem- The very talented and courageous Pulaski County Special Olympic athletes traveled north on I-81 early Sunday morning to compete in the Roanoke College Basketball Tournament. The Pulaski Cougars participated in both the half-court 3-on-3 and tradition 5-on-5 full-court competition in C. Homer Bast Physical Education/Recreation Center and Hope Tree Gymnasium.
In the first full-court game, the Cougars played against the Carroll County Hi-Flyers. The Pulaski team is a traditional team (all Special Olympians) while Carroll County sported a unified team (Special Olympians with partners that help control the game and can scored 20% of the total team points). Jason “Walleye” Wall scored first with a free throw for the Cougars to make the score 4-1 in favor of Carroll County. Doug Riazzi scored the second Pulaski bucket while James “Jimbo” Hylton added a free throw. Chris Perkins swished a three-pointer to narrow the lead to 9-6 with 1:35 left in the first half. The Pulaski players were playing tough defense with hands raised high and challenging the majority of their opponent’s shots. Lee Galimore and Ron Riazzi scored buckets in the third quarter to bring the Cougars to within two points 12-10 at the 1:50 mark. Unfortunately the buckets stopped falling, and the final score was Carroll County Hi-Flyers 26-Pulaski Cougars 10.
In game one of the 3-on-3 competition, Pulaski took on the Campbell County Spiders. Athletes Maranda Hamblin (12 points), Tiana Todd (4 points) and Ashley McGrady (4 points) scored with ease as they displayed good ball movement. The final score was 20-16 in favor of the Cougars. In the championship game against the Salem Wahoos, Hamblin scored all twenty points as Pulaski won 20-18 to earn the first place prize.
In the final full court game, the Cougars played the New River Valley Jammerz, a unified team. James Hylton was the leading scorer with 7 points, followed by Demetris Hazel (4), Lee Galloway (3), Jason Wall (2) and Megan Frost (1). The Pulaski players competed hard and showed toughness and teamwork throughout the contest. When the final whistle blew, the Cougars narrowly lost 20-17. They were awarded third place ribbons for their valiant efforts.
“Basketball is so much fun,” said Jason “Walleye” Wall, a 2005 PCHS graduate and a 12 year veteran on the Cougar basketball team. “I started out as a freshman playing in the half-court games. After two years, I switched to playing full-court. We just want to play the game, win or lose. I love competing at Virginia Tech! As the one of the two leaders of the team, I try to support my teammates on and off the court.”
James “Jimbo” Hylton is the other team leader and the leading scorer for the Cougars. “I’ve been playing for five years,” said the 2012 PCHS graduate. “I love basketball and like traveling to play in front of the crowds. We are a young team, so I like to teach my teammates the game.”
Demetris Hazel is a first year player for the Cougars. “Mr. Marunich talked me into playing,” said the PCHS sophomore. “It’s really fun, and it’s something I can do. My teammates are my friends, and we work together as a team.” Hazel admitted she liked playing on the Virginia Tech basketball court and then added one final thought-“You never give up!”
“We are in a transitional year,” said twenty-one year veteran special education teacher and Pulaski County Special Olympics program director George Marunich. “We have a new coach with Janay Garner and a lot of new players learning to play together.”
FedEx is sponsoring the Virginia Tech, Roanoke College and the Pulaski County High School Special Olympic Tournaments. PCHS 1983 graduate Chris Martin is a District Manager for FedEx based out of Charlotte, North Carolina and has always remembered his Pulaski County roots. FedEx supplies financial support for the Special Olympians with providing t-shirts, awards, banners and volunteer staff.
On Saturday, March 9, the Pulaski County High School 8th Annual Special Olympic Basketball Tournament will take place starting at 9 am and ending around 4 pm. The basketball competition will take place at the high school and Pulaski Elementary School. There will be 16 games throughout the day including full-court and half-court competitions and skill assessments. Athletes throughout the New River Valley will be competing including neighboring Roanoke, Salem and Carroll County teams. Admission is free and concessions will be sold to raise money for the March 14-15 Virginia State Championship trip to Stafford. Donations will be accepted. “This is your chance to come see a lot of good basketball and to see all the hard work these athletes have put in,” Marunich added. “It’s the public’s chance to see all the joy that has been accomplished for the past eight years.
There is still a need for volunteer workers as referees, scorekeepers and concession workers. If you can volunteer a few hour hours next Saturday, please call Kathy Davis at 643-0259. Your help will be much appreciated by both the athletes and the staff members.