A Unified Effort: Playing Hoops for the Absolute Fun of It

  • Hanover's Mary Thomas makes a basket for two points as teammate Ethan Gorman watches during Hanover at Stevens coed Unified basketball in Claremont, N.H., on February 4, 2014. The game included student athletes with developmental disabilities. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Hanover's Mary Thomas makes a basket for two points as teammate Ethan Gorman watches during Hanover at Stevens coed Unified basketball in Claremont, N.H., on February 4, 2014. The game included student athletes with developmental disabilities. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Stevens' Brenden Pacetti celebrates with teammate Tyler Erickson after Pacetti scored a basket during Hanover at Stevens coed Unified basketball in Claremont, N.H., on February 4, 2014. The game included student athletes with developmental disabilities.  (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Stevens' Brenden Pacetti celebrates with teammate Tyler Erickson after Pacetti scored a basket during Hanover at Stevens coed Unified basketball in Claremont, N.H., on February 4, 2014. The game included student athletes with developmental disabilities. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover's Shawn Cavallero (4) runs the ball upfield against Lebanon's Tavian Tobin in an Oct. 11, 2013, game in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Hanover's Shawn Cavallero (4) runs the ball upfield against Lebanon's Tavian Tobin in an Oct. 11, 2013, game in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover's Mary Thomas makes a basket for two points as teammate Ethan Gorman watches during Hanover at Stevens coed Unified basketball in Claremont, N.H., on February 4, 2014. The game included student athletes with developmental disabilities. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Stevens' Brenden Pacetti celebrates with teammate Tyler Erickson after Pacetti scored a basket during Hanover at Stevens coed Unified basketball in Claremont, N.H., on February 4, 2014. The game included student athletes with developmental disabilities.  (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Hanover's Shawn Cavallero (4) runs the ball upfield against Lebanon's Tavian Tobin in an Oct. 11, 2013, game in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Claremont — When Stevens High School junior Emily Root dropped in a 2-pointer from the left of the foul circle, she said her heart went “pitter patter.”

It doesn’t matter where you play or at what the level, scoring a basket is still a big deal. Tuesday’s big deal for Root came in a Coed Unified basketball game at Carr Gymnasium against visiting Hanover. And another big deal was the final outcome where a brace of late Cardinal baskets earned the hosts a 42-38 victory.

But ask any of the participants and they will tell you the result of the game is not what is of most importance.

“It’s the camaraderie,” said Stevens coach Carolyn Tuck. “It is a great experience for the kids to work together and meet other kids.”

The NHIAA has had a Unified sports program for three years that includes not only basketball, but soccer in the fall along with volleyball and track in the spring. According to the NHIAA bylaws: “Teams will be made up with students with or without intellectual disabilities. Teams will practice, travel and play together hopefully resulting in new relationships.”

Carr Gym is 135-years-old, a classic court experience with balconies and sideline seating. It’s the big time in our small world.

And you could see how much the kids enjoyed the atmosphere looking at the expressions on their faces as they were introduced to a round of applause.

It was a magical moment that had all the touches of a main event — with cheerleaders and the national anthem.

The players couldn’t have been happier if they were introduced at Boston Garden.

On the court, the game was played without interruption. There was not a foul, traveling or three-second violation called. The only time official Dave Kile blew his whistle was for a change of possession.

“This is a wonderful thing,” said Kile who started the Special Olympics program in Keene in 1972.

Missie Rodriguez, who has been coaching the Hanover Unified team for three years, loves what it does for the morale of the players.

“This is a great program,“ she said. “There is no downside.”

However, she said, there has been one problem — the socks.

“Our tradition has been our socks, and last year we wore Batman socks. But this year, the team voted Batman out and Superman in, ” she said.

Both programs at their respective schools get Special Olympics funding, but Rodriguez believes by next year the Hanover program will be incorporated into the athletic budget.

Tyler Erickson, a Stevens senior, scored 30 points including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 38-38 with 2:52 to go.

“What a fun time this was,” he said. “I love playing basketball.”

And it was a fun time.

And having the most fun for Hanover was senior Mary Thomas who made five consecutive baskets from the left side of the lane.

Each one brought a round of applause and, after the fifth one, she got a pat on the back from Stevens’ Kai Kleyensteuber.

Senior Walter Mosenthal was Hanover’s leading scorer with 14.

The Marauders led for most of the game, but a 13-2 run in the fourth quarter resulted in a 42-38 Stevens win. Cardinal freshman Brenden Pacetti had the basket that broke the 38-38 deadlock.

He may still be smiling.