All for fun, fun for all: Hanover Unified basketball balances camaraderie, competition

  • Newport’s Fletcher Davis (8) dribbles the ball down the court while Hanover’s Ellie Havrda (4), Hope Dufty (30) and Zoey Hossler (25) play defense during a Unified Basketball game at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Shantel Zhou (34) laughs as she talks to Ellie Havrda (4) before the start of a Unified Basketball game against Newport at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

  • Isaac Prince (40) talks to Emily Neily (12) while they sit on the bench during a Unified Basketball game against Newport at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / report for america — Alex Driehaus

  • Abe Healey (20) works with Ellie Havrda (4) and Emily Neily (12) as they practice shooting the ball at halftime during a Unified Basketball game against Newport at Hanover High School in Hanover, N.H., on Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 1/25/2022 9:13:34 PM
Modified: 1/25/2022 9:12:21 PM

HANOVER — It may have taken a few minutes, but Eli Weintraub made sure everyone in the stands at Hanover High knew he had just scored the first basket of the game.

Weintraub, a senior on the Hanover Unified basketball team, did a little dance as he ran back to play defense, shaking his arms around in jubilation.

“I love (the celebrations), how good it makes them feel,” said Kate McCaull, the team captain. “A few of them have these great celebrations every time they (score), and it makes it special every time.”

Hanover is one of three Upper Valley high schools to sponsor Unified basketball, along with Newport and Stevens. Unified sports allow students with intellectual disabilities to play competitive sports, with help from student partners like McCaull.

On Monday, Hanover honored its senior Unified basketball players and partners before its 36-26 win over Newport, improving to 3-3 for the season. But while the NHIAA handbook on Unified sports states that their focus is competition rather than simply participation, coach Missie Rodriguez always tells her team to play to the ability of their opponent.

“If they’re playing hard, you play hard. If the skill level is low, you play low,” Rodriguez said. “Yes, we want to win and we want to do our best, but you also have to try to give everybody a chance.”

Student partners outnumber Hanover’s Unified athletes nearly two to one, but on the court, partners mostly stay away from the action. Three Unified athletes and two partners are on the floor at any given time. Partners can gather rebounds, pass and bring the ball up the court, but they are not allowed to shoot or play with any intensity on defense.

That is perfectly fine with McCaull, who played basketball when she was younger but did not like how competitive it could get. Helping the Unified team allowed her to stay involved with the game without the stakes being too high.

“I’ve been able to meet so many people through the team and games, and it’s such a supportive team,” McCaull said. “It’s a really friendly environment, which I adore. We all learn a lot from each other because everyone has their own unique story. You gain a lot of empathy and perspective, and some good friends, too.”

Students with intellectual disabilities who are expected to be in school until they turn 21 are eligible to play Unified sports, and the NHIAA offers soccer, volleyball and outdoor track in addition to basketball. Hanover sponsors basketball and outdoor track.

Emily Neily led Hanover in scoring Monday with 12 points, and Weintraub and Ellie Havrda each added eight. Abbey Carley had 12 to pace Newport, whose partners include the three leading scorers on the Tigers’ varsity girls team — Taylor Fellows, Riely Skarin and Maddox Lovely.

The game was loosely officiated, with a mandated timeout at the halfway point of each quarter for substitutions. There were no fouls or traveling violations called, even though the players frequently advanced the ball without dribbling. At one point, a Unified player dribbled up the court well out of bounds, but that also went uncalled.

At the end of each season, the Hanover Unified team holds a prom for juniors and seniors in the school cafeteria. Rodriguez said she tries to replicate a traditional prom as closely as possible, with dancing and refreshments, and Unified athletes and partners can each bring a guest. The event has not taken place the last two years due to the pandemic, but Rodriguez said she has received permission to reinstate it this year.

“I’m seeing the team morale, the team camaraderie; it’s just them coming together,” Rodriguez said. “They’re high-fiving, they’re trying to make them better basketball players. To see the bonds that develop and grow, it’s fantastic.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at brosenberg@vnews.com or 603-727-3302.




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