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'Home Town Heroes' compete in Special Olympics

A member of the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, goes for a lay up during the 1st Annual Celebrity Basketball Game, hosted by the Special Olympics division in St. Joseph, Mo., Feb. 19, at Central High School. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Crane)

A member of the 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, goes for a lay up during the 1st Annual Celebrity Basketball Game, hosted by the Special Olympics division in St. Joseph, Mo., Feb. 19, at Central High School. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Crane)

ST. JOSEPH, Mo -- Spectators and fans lined the bleachers of the high school gym . The cheerleaders were chanting and the mascot, an orange tiger, was cheering. The two teams sitting on the benches rushed the court as the announcer bellowed, "Let's get ready to rumble!"

The Home Town Heroes, a team made up of 11 members from the 139th Airlift Wing, took on the St. Joseph School District (SJSD) Special Olympic athletes in the 1st Annual Celebrity Basketball game at Central High School Feb. 19.

This is the first time the St. Joseph division of Special Olympics has held a basketball game, said Mary Brown, SJSD Coordinator for Special Olympics. The local division already has a baseball celebrity event and when she was asked to start a celebrity basketball game, she jumped at the chance.

"They always pick celebrities from people in the city...I wanted to take a different twist on it and do heroes, and we called ours 'Home Town Heroes'," she said.

The Air Guard has worked with and supported Camp Guardian, a summer camp for people with mental and physical disabilities, in the past. Having that past experience made the 139th AW a good pick for the celebrity game said Maj. Ryan Stepp, Home Town Heroes team captain.

"There was no shortage of volunteers," said Stepp.

2nd Lt. Robert Lovelady, 139th Logistics Readiness Squadron, is a previous volunteer at Camp Guardian. When Stepp asked Lovelady to be part of the celebrity team, he said of course.

"We all had a fun time, and we do it for them," said Lovelady who played point guard. "They had some good players...there was not much we could do toward the end, they just kept making the shots."

At one time his team was down 16 points. "They were very competitive and we're just thankful we closed that gap a little near the end," said Stepp. "We had a fantastic time."

It was a close game the entire match with the Special Olympic athletes defeating the Home Town Heroes 53 to 49.

"We're honored that they invited us to be the celebrity basketball team," said Col. Mike Pankau, 139th Airlift Wing vice commander, who attended the game. "They see us out here in the community, and we are heroes to them."