MEDFORD – Without playing a single second on the court, Medford sophomore Jonathan Malerba has dedicated much of his time and energy to make an impact for the boys varsity basketball program.
Tuesday night, the Mustangs reciprocated that dedication right back to the team manager who’s supporting them every game.
Wearing blue warmup shirts that read “Committed to curing NF” on the back, Medford’s 58-31 triumph over Malden not only marked a huge Greater Boston League win for the program’s fifth straight victory, but also a win toward further promoting the awareness of the debilitating condition Malerba fights through.
Seeing how passionately the sophomore contributes to the team in any way he can despite battling neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder of the nervous system, head coach John Skerry wanted to give back any way he and the program could.
This win, and the $525 fundraised through raffle tickets, was for him.
“I said to the guys in the locker room (before the game), ‘Look to your left, look to your right,’ ” he said. “’If any of you guys get tired at all tonight, just remember who you’re playing for.’ Jonathan would kill to be out here. And he’s just the man.”
Neurofibromatosis is an umbrella-like condition that affects people in a variable of different ways, and actually affects more Americans than Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy do combined. It significantly stimulates tumor growth all throughout the body, and can lead to a vast variety of resulting abnormalities in all organs.
What it can’t do, though, is take the basketball junky out of Malerba.
Much like many his age, Malerba is very active in the sports scene. His top pick in one of the several fantasy leagues he plays in was Jayson Tatum, perhaps a nod to his favorite team. He follows much of the action in the NBA, and he carries that love to his school’s program.
“Basketball is my main sport,” Malerba said. “I like watching the action and game plan.”
A member of the unified basketball team after playing with the freshman team last season, Malerba can’t hit the hardwood right now. He’s on crutches as he recovers from a second leg surgery he received to correct issues related to NF.
But for Skerry, Malerba still does quite a bit.
Between charting shots, taking stats, shooting photos, volunteering for youth camps and sometimes traveling with the team, Malerba is a busy man for the Mustangs. That opportunity doesn’t go unnoticed by his parents.
“He just had the second round of surgeries on his other leg at the end of December, so he wouldn’t be able to play basketball,” said mother Melissa Malerba. “Skerry just included him, he made him team manager. … It just made us feel great, and I know it’s making Jonathan feel included even though he’s (on the sideline). It’s just amazing.”
In all, the whole community has supported not only Malerba, but also freshman Deniro Bruno – who fights the same condition. The Brunos and Malerbas have been very active in promoting awareness and fundraising for research, and Medford’s community has responded by taking a role in donating over $80,000 through the last 13 years. The two families have even adopted large roles in advocating to congress for continued research funding.
The understanding of the highly unpredictable condition has improved dramatically in that span, something of which both families are extremely grateful for. Games like Tuesday’s help, and Skerry is hoping to make it an annual event.
On his end, it’s a no-brainer.
“Just (the other day) he texted me asking ‘Hey Coach, what are the days for camp,’ ” he said. “For summer camp, he’s just that all in. … He’s always helped out at our camps and clinics. He was always coming to fall workouts and stuff like that, he’s just a great kid. He’s the kind of kid that you want on your program because he brings good energy.
“If I’m not careful, he might take my job.”