The annual Battle of Worthington is like any other youth basketball game but with a little more showmanship and a lot more heart.
The year's game between the Worthington Stars and the Worthington Ambassadors ended with a 56-41 win for the Stars on March 13 before a packed gym at Thomas Worthington High School.
This was the 14th matchup for the Special Olympics Stars and the Ambassadors, a team comprising two players each from Worthington's four middle schools.
As in past years, the game drew lots of crowd support as the Stars not only dribbled and shot but also stole the ball, galloped in for layups and occasionally attempted 3-pointers.
The Stars all have catchy star-quality nicknames, like Pistol Pete, Wildcat, Defensive Tornado, Defender and Heartbreak Kid.
Former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Dimitrious Stanley announced the game and the nicknames, with his commentary adding to the play-by-play excitement.
The Stars come in many sizes and ages, ranging from 10 to 47. Thirty players took part in the game.
The crowd cheered as the Stars scored and when a pair displayed their talents and took a bow. Equally memorable, though, was the generosity of some of the bigger Stars feeding the ball to their teammates, giving every star a chance to shine.
The Stars began practice in November and started their season in January. They play other Special Olympics teams from Westerville, Marion, Upper Arlington, Goodwill, Columbus and Hilliard.
They all live in or near Worthington.
Greg Eckert and Melissa Franchini coach the varsity squad, and Tim Heiman and Peter Schera coach junior varsity.
The Stars' program is a bit different from most of the others, said Cindy Sprague, parent of a a player.
"We do not deny anyone who wishes to participate in the program, no tryouts," she said. "Until last year, we didn't have the two squads. Some of our more advanced players voiced that they would like to be more competitive, and so the varsity and junior varsity squads were born."
The varsity squad plays against the competitive teams, and the junior varsity plays against the younger players on a team and noncompetitive teams.
"Our program gives the athletes the opportunity to build their basketball skills, as well as team-building social skills, and gives them a fun way to get some exercise," Sprague said.
The Stars have their own cheerleaders, who performed at halftime. They are Jennifer Beck, Allie Brown, Laura Daily, Casey White and Elizabeth Hall.
A pep band from the Ohio School for the Blind provided additional excitement to the event.
Playing for the Ambassadors team this year were Jenna Rao, Jimmy Rao, Allison Keep, Cassady Watson, Matt Witherow, Caroline Gnezda, Ayana McMillan, Jacob Christman and Abbie Miller.
The junior varsity Stars are Liam Maloney, Adam Bailey, Ryan Trubee, Dustin Miller, Lori Huff, Maria Rudy, Isaac Heiman, Peter Schera, Brian Warton, Luke Werbovetz, Jonathan Cooper, Keenan Cunningham, Owen Heiman, Natalie Schlater and A.J. Whitlach.
Varsity Stars are Jordan Berger, Joey Spadafora, Andy Lund, John Sprague, Micah Lanning, Joseph Schroeder, Craig Eckert, Christian Custer, Nick Franchini, Stephanie Leppert and Sarah Girgis. David Manning is the team manager.