The 18th annual Battle of Worthington tipped off last week in a fast-paced basketball game that kept the crowd cheering for both sides, yelling out encouragement and stomping the bleachers.

Held March 8 at Thomas Worthington High School, the exhibition game featured the Worthington Stars, a Special Olympics team, taking on the Worthington Ambassadors, a squad of middle school students from the district.

The Stars won 87-45, but team members from both sides enjoyed the game, said Stars coach Greg Eckert.

"This is what a sports contest is supposed to be like," he said.

He said the middle school students on the Ambassadors team are selected from a group of athletes eager for a spot on the roster.

"The kids look forward to this game all year," he said.

Tammy Bailey coordinated the event, which is sponsored by the Worthington City School District and Leadership Worthington Alumni.

"It is a feel-good event and almost like a family reunion and community celebration," she said.

Her son, Adam Bailey, is on the Stars team.

Bailey said the annual game began in 1999, when intervention specialists Sharon Fish and Megan Ramage wanted the newly organized Worthington Special Olympics basketball team to have a friendly opponent for an exhibition.

Ramage has coached the Ambassadors ever since that year.

Bailey said 31 players are on the Stars roster, which is split into junior varsity and varsity squads that play other Special Olympics teams throughout the school year.

She said Dimitrious Stanley, a Thomas Worthington graduate and former Ohio State University wide receiver, has been the play-by-play voice of the game since 2003.

Stars player Ryan Trubee sang the national anthem and the marching band from the Ohio State School for the Blind performed at the game.

"I love the battle and help out each year because I enjoy it and the kids enjoy it," Bailey said.