WAKEFIELD – As Melrose’s school day began and the students made their way to the building on Thursday morning, one of the first things athletic director Stephen Fogarty noticed was James Kavanaugh – a team player from unified basketball – holding the door open, fully decked out in his Red Raiders gear.
Later that afternoon he would flex his muscles with every shot he or his teammates took, as well as jump and scream into the flow of every game Melrose would play in the Premier Middlesex League and Dual County League Hoopapalooza – a unified basketball jamboree. at Galvin Middle School in Wakefield.
Simply, Kavanaugh was charged. And this excitement to compete was contagious.
“I just said to his mom, ‘Good luck getting him to bed tonight,’” Fogarty said.
Behind the work and cooperation of Brendan Kent, athletic director for Fogarty and Wakefield, the jamboree – a round robin tournament for unified basketball teams – was held on a pair of outdoor courts next to Lexington College, Melrose, Wakefield, Watertown and Bedford will participate.
When players weren’t on the field, they enjoyed the pizza or slushies that sports programs paid for, or danced to the music playing through the speaker. There was no tournament trophy, no tournament champion. Just a unified basketball community enjoying each other’s presence in a competitive atmosphere to close the season.
“We’ve had a jamboree in the past, but with the pandemic, we weren’t sure if that would happen this year,” Fogarty said. “It’s just a good opportunity to try something different on the outside. … No championships, everything is for smiles. Just to bring the different schools together. Everyone is doing all of this for the same reason – to support all the students. ”
This sense of community was fully demonstrated even before the start of the event, with a special introduction to the festivities. Christian Rojas of Lexington sang the national anthem, and there was a moment of silence for Grace Zinck of Melrose, who died just a few weeks ago at age 17.
She loved playing on the unified basketball team, and Fogarty said she was always a ray of sunshine who was “such a gift for our school”. His father, Brian, was touched that the community paid tribute to him and highly appreciated the involvement of unified basketball in his life.
“Things like this (jamboree) make the community stronger,” he said, before detailing how much that meant for Melrose’s team to come and offer their condolences to his friend.
This love for the sport also ringed true for all the athletes on the field, as smiles spread to every basket and celebration. Among those who celebrated after scoring was Rojas, who kicked off the ‘floss’ dance move several times and couldn’t stop smiling when talking about the squad.
“It feels good because it’s fun,” he says. “All the people here that I know can just be bloated. … We just have fun, hang out with the coach and of course take the bus (to the games). It feels good to be part of a team and it’s just great to be here.
For Lexington coach Tom Brincklow, he is impressed with how each of the school communities and cities has come together in unified basketball like all other sports. The Minutemen typically pack the house for their home games, and the program was co-founded by former student Addie Metzger, whose sister Lily is now on the squad.
Thursday’s jamboree saw the Wakefield cheerleaders come to support the teams in front of a collection of friends and family, and those who weren’t in attendance could watch the Melrose High TV livestream.
“What I saw is how high school adopted it, it’s amazing,” Brincklow said. “Lexington is a big high school, there are 2,500 kids. Everyone says, “Oh, unified, unified”. … They make things fun for the kids. I have the captain of the boys ‘team, the captain of the girls’ team in my team. At Lexington, we run this like a regular team. ”
Watertown has a similar feel to his squad, as head coach Patrick Ferdinand is sometimes so excited in the game that he needs to remember to calm down.
“I also coach the women’s basketball team,” he said. “We don’t differentiate ourselves. … These children are wonderful.
Between the muscle flexes, the dance moves and the support of partner athletes without learning difficulties on the field with the athletes, no one at the event could help but smile as the festivities progress. And while it can be difficult due to the colder weather during the typical fall season, Fogarty hopes to continue this outdoor jamboree in the future.
You can count on the athletes to be excited for this day.