When Merrimack Valley High School senior Molly Mullen decided to create a unified basketball team as her senior project, she realized it would be perfect for the college major she wants to pursue. More important than her potential career in occupational therapy, however, was the opportunity to get to know the kids and let them experience a high school sport.
As Athletic Director Kevin O’Brien explained, “(The unified team) is an NHIAA varsity team that is co-sponsored and grant-funded through the Special Olympics. The concept of the program is to match students with and without disabilities.”
This year’s team is coached by Pat Kenney, Kathy Gilbert, Lenny Smith, Lauren Mercier and Molly Mullen.
The program works almost the same as any other basketball game. “There are two companion players and three unified players on the court at a time, and we play a full basketball game with four quarters,” player Mikayla Godfrey said
All told, the Merrimack Valley team will play six games this year, both home and away, against unified teams from Plymouth, Gilford and Concord. The team’s first home game was Jan. 18, and there was quite a turnout. There were more people in attendance than at a varsity game – the stands were filled with students, faculty, family members, and citizens from the community.
Student Cassidy Huckins, a varsity basketball player herself, explained, “This team is very inspirational, and watching them play made me tear up.” Stephen Bergethon, a science teacher at MVHS, says he is proud and happy to see these students playing.
Asked what she hopes to get out of this experience, Mullen said, “I didn’t do this for me; I did this hoping to boost these students’ confidence and social skills.” Parents, faculty, and students are all inspired and proud of the outcome of this unified basketball team, and hope to see a team like this as the years go on.
The team’s final home game is Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. Admission is free.