An Upper Arlington Special Olympics basketball team brought home a state championship last month.
The third time was the charm for the Upper Arlington Golden Bears school-age division team of male and female players ages 10 to 21 from Upper Arlington and Grandview. The team won a state championship March 23 with a 42-39 squeaker over the Darke County Special Olympics Slammers.
In doing so, the 11-member local team followed up on a double-digit victory over the Stark County Public Royal Knights the previous night in the state semifinal. That game vanquished the ghosts of semifinal losses the two previous seasons.
In the final, the Golden Bears rallied from a nine-point deficit in the second half and overcame two key players' foul troubles on their way to being crowned Ohio's best team in their division, coach Bart Griffin said.
"We've been working on this about five years now, since I started coaching," Griffin said. "We made it the last two years and got whipped pretty good in the semis.
"The championship was a nail-biter. It's special because of the fact we got close several years in a row and got over the hump, especially for some of the kids that have been with me all that time."
The Golden Bears went 13-2 for the year, sweeping five games in a row in the single-elimination state tournament on their way to winning it all.
"It was definitely madness, I can tell you that," Griffin said. "It was a blast."
He said he was proud of each of the team's members for their hard work and dedication, and he credited Sam Ferris, Enrique Giuliani and Mark Turkelson for providing leadership throughout the season and during the tournament run.
"They're very unselfish and do a great job," Griffin said.
The possible turning point in the final game, he said, came courtesy of volunteer coach Matt Kincade, a senior at Upper Arlington High School.
Down nine points in the second half and with Ferris and Turkelson each just one foul from having to be removed from the game, Kincade told Griffin to switch defenses from the Golden Bears' patented zone to man-to-man.
"That was the key," Griffin said.
In addition to feeling "the thrill of victory," Griffin said he particularly cherishes the championship because his son, Austin, shared in the feat as an assistant coach. He said the two will soak up the victory for a while to come, but the culmination will be at an upcoming celebratory team party.
"We are going to have a gathering," he said. "I ordered up some T-shirts and ball caps with 'State Champs' on them."