By Jeff Gallatin
Competitors in the sixth annual “Battle of the Gridiron” agree on one thing: It’s special to them being able to help Special Olympians.
This year’s match-up has a couple of changes. After getting beaten by the North Ridgeville police the last two years, the North Olmsted police have enlisted the help of their Cuyahoga County brethren in Olmsted Township and Westlake to battle their Lorain County counterparts for area charity flag football supremacy this Saturday.
In addition, North Ridgeville is hosting the game and festivities this year for the first time. With a kickoff time of 6:30 p.m. at North Ridgeville High School, 35895 Center Ridge Road, participants said there will be plenty of time for spectators to enjoy the game, athletes and wide range of raffles.
Team captains Det. Ken Vagase of North Olmsted and Lt. Greg Petek of North Ridgeville said they look forward to helping the youngsters and the competition.
“It really is about the kids and getting them some help,” Vagase said. “I know the guys on our team look forward to seeing the kids on the field and their family and friends at the game. They clearly appreciate what we do by playing and raising the funds.”
Petek said first taking part in the game, and then stepping up their involvement, is a natural for members of his department.
“It’s great being able to help them out like that,” he said. “We do different things in the department. It’s not too hard to get the guys to sign up when they hear about this game, and we do the torch run and help out in other areas.”
Hosting the event seemed a good thing to do, Petek said.
“I see everything Kenny has done in organizing the event for years,” he said. “Getting people to participate and play, getting sponsors, setting things up and preparing the event. We’re glad to have something like this which benefits the kids at our place.”
Vagase noted the event netted more than $7,100 last year, and has raised more than $42,000 in the seven years it’s been played.
“We funnel that right back to the Special Olympians and their programs,” he said.
Krystal Tavenner, one of the coaches for the Lorain chapter of Special Olympics, said the game means a lot to the Special Olympians.
“They look forward to it every year,” she said. “Right now (Sept. 15) we have 15 confirmations that they will be at the game, and we’ll probably have some more by the time is here.”
Funds from the charity game have allowed the program to expand.
“We’ve added people and programs from when we started with just a few,” she said. “We have 38 Special Olympic athletes now and this pays for bowling, basketball and swimming programs now. We know how tough it is to raise funds right now, so we really appreciate what they do.”
Vagase said for the on-the-field activities, bringing in Olmsted Township officers and another from Westlake should aid the North Olmsted/West Shore team.
“We were getting a little old and it was hard keeping up with Ridgeville’s speed, so the new guys should help us out in that area.”
He said the Cuyahoga County forces will have experience at quarterback in North Olmsted Patrolman Jim “George Blanda” Yost.
“He’ll be back under center in his wheelchair for one more game,” Vagase said. “He wants to win this one.”
Petek said the North Ridgeville team will be ready.
“We’re going to protect this house since we’re hosting it this year,” he said. “I understand that they had to go get some help from other departments this year. We’ll be ready for them. I understand Jim Yost is going to play again. He’s getting a little old, but that’s OK, we can handle him.”
For ticket or other information, call either the North Olmsted police at 440-777-3535 and ask for Vagase, Patrolman Bill Saringer or Dave Huspaska. In North Ridgeville, call 440-327-2191 and ask for Lt. Petek.