Please assign a menu to the primary menu location under menu


MVC teams unified in hoop jamboree – Boston Herald


LOWELL – The brand-new Riddick Athletic Center at Lowell High School already made its grand opening in September, but what its fresh walls surrounded Thursday night carried the first kind of specialty its seen.

After a couple years at Andover, the hosting Merrimack Valley Conference unified basketball jamboree school slid across the conference with 11 different teams competing in a round-robin night of play.

Four games were played at once, and each team was guaranteed at least four 18-minute games in front of a packed gym of fans, family, city council members and school officials. Teams were introduced one by one, each walking through the tunnel of cheerleaders that went on to cheer the games all night. Lowell school officials even gave a few words to start the festivities.

No, it wasn’t the building’s grand opening. For over 200 participating athletes and partner-athletes, though, it sure was something special.

“This is the real first event (in the building), this is special,” said Lowell athletic director Dave Lezenski. “This is awesome. Our kids deserve this. … There were city council members here, there were school committee members here, there were members of the city manager staff here. This is special. I love it. I love it.”

Chelmsford's Erik Rego takes a shot during a game against Greater Lawrence Tech while playing in the Unified Basketball Jamboree at Lowell High School on Friday. (Photo by Amanda Sabga/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
Chelmsford’s Erik Rego takes a shot during a game against Greater Lawrence Tech while playing in the Unified Basketball Jamboree at Lowell High School on Friday. (Photo by Amanda Sabga/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Amid the sport’s rapid growth, almost all MVC schools had a team playing in the jamboree. Even Greater Lowell, normally in the Commonwealth Athletic Conference, got a bid to play. And for everyone, like always, it was a friendly, hyper-interactive experience.

All hands went up whenever Methuen made a shot. Lawrence’s Luis Corniel batted his chest when he sunk a bucket, and playfully got in Lowell partner-athlete Juan Beltres Diaz’ face in-between game rotations – drawing plenty of smiles. Parents who never miss a game roared from the sidelines in such a loud environment it was difficult to get a word out in conversation without yelling.

“It’s awesome to be in a brand-new facility,” said second-year Andover coach Mike Scarfo. “It’s being run fantastic, I think it’s really smooth. It’s just a great way to get familiar with all the teams. … I think the atmosphere has been awesome.”

For most schools, the unified programs are still very young.

Chelmsford athletic director Dan Hart watched on his second-year program compete, knowing just how meaningful the jamboree – and the sport – is. And as the MVC leads much of the state in the sport’s growth with all but one school fielding a team, MIAA unified basketball liason Peter Smith couldn’t help but say positive things about how this jamboree – one of 15 after just four took place in 2017 – plays its part in the sport’s rise.

“Not everyone was in (on the jamboree) at first … but everyone has a team now, so this is great,” Hart said. “All of our schools stress to get involved in something afterschool, so that it’s not just a building. Why not give these kids the same opportunity to feel like they’re involved in something more than the classroom?”

Added Smith: “It’s so incredible how many schools are willing to host a jamboree like this and just provide this awesome opportunity for students. This is amazing to watch, 11 teams. Usually there’s 6-8 (teams) on average, so this is bigger for sure. … So many schools are seeing the impact that unified sports can have on their school building, within their student population and how it can impact the community in general.”

For Lowell head coach Donna Newcomb, she remembers when her program started just five years ago. Not many people knew what unified basketball even was. Seeing just how meaningful the relationships within the sport have been for athletes like Sam Field – who played his final game before graduating – and sophomore Alberto Mareno, as well as a partner-athlete in Beltres Diaz, made Thursday night that much more emotional for her as her team finally got to host.

As far as she’s concerned, the jamboree is just one of many highlights the sport provides.

“To see our program evolve to the point where we could undertake holding a jamboree like this is huge,” she said. “Every game is an exclamation point. This is a wonderful experience, but … when I think about (Field), how he started as a player and where he is now is no comparison. That is true for a lot of our athletes.”

“What I think is awesome about it is having that camaraderie between the partner-athletes and the athletes,” Scarfo added. “We have so many awesome kids that want to volunteer, not really in it for anything other than just for those kids.”


Source link