menu Home
Local NewsSports

Tuscarawas County Rockets shine at Special Olympics Summer Games

| July 5, 2023
Chelsea Lefler, Emma Ward, Carter Holbrook, and Heather Baker pose during Opening Cermonies at Jesse Owens Stadium at The Ohio State University.

COLUMBUS – For the first time, the Tuscarawas County Rockets took 65 athletes and coaches from five sports to Special Olympic Ohio’s Summer Games at The Ohio State University.

When current local coordinator, Richelle Lefler, attended her first Summer Games in 2016, the Rockets were represented in three sports: athletics, bocce, and bowling. In 2019, the Rockets added volleyball to their offerings. This year, inspired by athlete-leader Craig Gordon and Coach Bob Ward, the Rockets competed in powerlifting.

Over 2,200 athletes from across Ohio competed between June 23 and 25.

The Rockets have been training weekly since March and April for the season-culminating and largest annual state event. This training is a community-wide effort: Athletics practiced at New Philadelphia’s Quaker Stadium and Strasburg’s Ron Hurst Stadium, Bocce practiced at Dover City Park’s Courts, Bowling practiced at both Wabash Lanes (who also hosted a tri-county tournament in April) and Boulevard Lanes, Powerlifting trained at the Tuscarawas County YMCA, and Volleyball practiced at Memorial Hall. The Rockets also took part in several events including a volleyball invite in HIlliard and a track and bocce meet in Minerva.

The Athletics team had many standout performances. Allison Halsey competed in the pentathlon and was the only female in the entire state to do so. Two rookies, Chris Wernert and Matthew Toole, Jr., both captured triple gold medals for the Rockets. Wernert competed in the 100m dash and mini javelin, while Toole competed in the 100m dash and softball throw. All three athletes were part of two 4×100 m relay teams that came from behind to capture the gold medal in their respective divisions. Other Rockets and their finishes include:

  • Kaylee Arthurs: 1st (4x100m relay), 5th (100m dash), and 6th (shot put)
  • Chris Bayne: 2nd (100m walk) and 6th (softball throw)
  • Chris McDade: 3rd (50m dash and softball throw)
  • Jess Seevers: 1st (softball throw and 200m run) and 3rd (softball throw)
  • Tory Seevers: 1st (4x100m relay, 100m dash) and 6th (softball throw)
  • Brian Wernert: 1st (4x100m relay), 5th (softball throw), and 6th (100m dash)
  • Kershel Zehnder: 1st (4x100m relay), 4th (100m dash), and 5th (mini javelin)

Wernert shared that he was proud of his accomplishments, especially given that he tried a new event (mini javelin) this year.

Halsey says that she always looks forward to seeing her friends from other counties and just being able to be herself whether that be during competition, singing, or dancing.
The Bocce team was represented by 4 teams at Summer Games. They competed in the Unified, Traditional Men’s, and Traditional Women’s Divisions. Winning medals for the Rockets were:

  • Gold: Star and Kasey Basiletti (Unified Division)
  • Silver: Rodney Fuller and Eric Lingo (Men’s Traditional Division)
  • Bronze: Robert Easlick and Cody Lynch (Men’s Traditional Division) and Samantha Mastroine (Women’s Traditional Division)

The Bowling team was represented by 10 athletes. They competed in various age groups and divisions over the course of Saturday and Sunday. Many Rockets bowled above their averages in some very tough
games that saw some placements divided by less than 10 pins. The Rockets competing in bowling and their respective finishes included:

  • Gold: Aaron Scott and Lonnie Thornton
  • Silver: Steve Hazelip and Jordan Miller
  • Bronze: Tyler Ross, Ean Seevers, and Nathanial Wells
  • 4th Place: Kris Klapper, Austin McGinnis, and Samantha Thornton

The Volleyball team faced some very tough foes in the Franklin Flyers and the Pickerington Jaguars. Rachael Russell, who represented Team Ohio at the 2022 USA Games in Florida, and Joey Fulton led the
team in aces and service returns. Other team members included Lucy Cooper, Conner DiGenova, Kitana Livengood, Sonya Livengood, Brandon Miller, and Larry Smitley. The Rockets were awarded 5th place
honors for their efforts.

Russell, who was also recently awarded the Gene Jasper Athlete of the Year Award, shared that the competition can sometimes be frustrating, but she is determined to come back stronger next season. She added that she had a fun time with her friends and looks forward to Summer Games every year.

The Powerlifting team had 6 athletes compete in a variety of weight classes in both Men’s and Women’s Divisions. All athletes competed in the bench press, deadlift, and combination. Many of the athletes achieved personal records in both events. Powerlifters for the Rockets included:

  • Heather Baker: Gold (Bench Press, Deadlift, and Combo)
  • Craig Gordon: 5th (Bench Press, Deadlift, and Combo)
  • Carter Holbrook: Silver (Bench Press, Deadlift, and Combo)
  • Chelsea Lefler: Gold (Bench Press and Combo) and Silver (Deadlift)
  • Aidan McClain: Silver (Bench Press) and Bronze (Deadlift and Combo)
  • Emma Ward: Gold (Bench Press, Deadlift, and Combo)

The Rockets received a 4-car police escort from the New Philadelphia Police Department on the morning of June 23rd. Prior to Summer Games, the Rockets also had a pep rally and a track team dinner at Hog Heaven donated by Nate Penrod and Bair Foot Lawncare. At Opening Ceremonies, Gordon was one of four athletes selected from across the state to carry the Flame of Hope into Jesse Owens Stadium
alongside law enforcement officer, Davey Jones.

The next sports for the Rockets will be softball and golf. Sign-ups are currently taking place. Questions can be emailed to Richelle at

Governor Mike DeWine presents the winning 4×100 relay comprised of Kaylee Arthurs, Tory Seevers, Brian Wedlake, and Kershel Zehnder.

Allison Halsey poses with her gold medal for the pentathlon.

Chris Bayne congratulates his competitor during the awards ceremony for the 100m Walk.

Chris Wernert captures gold in the 100m Dash.

Coach Bob Ward and daughter Emma share a tender moment after she was awarded a gold medal for her efforts.

Jess Severs reacts to capturing gold in the Softball Throw.

Kershel Zehnder heaves the mini javelin during competition.

Matthew Toole, Jr. poses with Governor Mike DeWine after being awarded his gold medal for the 4x100m Relay.

Members of the Rockets Bowling and Track Teams pose after competition at Bowlero (Sawmill) Lanes in Columbus.

Members of the Rockets Volleyball team pose before their competition.

Nathanial Wells celebrates after getting a strike during bowling competition.

Robert Easlick and Cody Lynch captured bronze medal honor during the bocce competition.

Rodney Fuller and Eric Lingo pose during the dance held on the Saturday night of the Games. Earlier in the day, they captured a silver medal in bocce.

Samantha Mastroine celebrates winning a bronze medal in her bocce competition.

Aidan McClain deadlifts almost 400 pounds during competition.

Written by