Basketball game unites Milford, Alvirne

On most Mondays, students dread the thought of another long day at school, with quiet classrooms and quieter minds roaming the halls of Milford High School.

That wasn’t the case Feb. 10, though, as excitement pervaded the halls with an almost static electricity. Students crowded into the gym, and those who couldn’t fit on the bleachers sat on the floor in appreciation and wonder as classmates partnered with special-needs students in an intense game of basketball with the Alvirne Unified team that raised funds for the Special Olympics.

Unified sports are a Special Olympics program that combine people with and without intellectual disabilities.

Both teams were delighted when Milford High’s mascot, the Spartan, made an appearance and roused the crowd to complete waves that traveled the circumference of the floor. Signs decorated every available surface, some having to be held by students so that all could be seen.

During halftime, athletes took a much deserved break as Alvirne’s Unified cheer team led the crowd in a dance that had the whole gym up in their seats.

In the name of sportsmanship, both teams were cheered on to their very best effort; chants of “Let’s go, Alvirne” and, “Let’s go, Milford” could be heard echoing in the hallways long after the game was completed.

The game started at 9:30 a.m. and lasted two hours, with each team
exchanging athletes to ensure that everyone had an equal opportunity to score.

“I passed to Cicely, and Cicely passed to Florina,” Milford freshman Brooke O’Brien explained. “Great job, Cicely! I am so proud!”

“I enjoyed Monday’s basketball,” senior RJay Murphy said. “I thought that all the kids watching us was really cool and awesome.

“My favorite part was when the mascot was there and when they were yelling ‘Kolby’ and they were all doing the wave,” he said, referring to freshman Kolby Kelley.

Student partner Natalie Olsen was one of many who enjoyed the sportsmanship shown by all of players.

“It wasn’t the game or the score that mattered,” she said. “What really mattered was the happiness that sparked throughout the game. Every smile, high-five, cheer and hug after each play made this experience priceless and absolutely irreplaceable.”

The Milford team consisted of 13 athletes and was coached by Steve Erdody, while the larger Alvirne team had 30 athletes and looked to its principal, Steven Beals, for leadership.

In the final minute, the score became tied 64-64, and I don’t believe either team could have been more overjoyed.

For this event, Milford’s principal, Bradford Craven, set a goal for every student in the school to donate $1 to help support the goals of Special Olympics. In less than an hour, more than $900 was raised by students and faculty, showing their team spirit; in fact, many students and faculty members dressed in the school colors, blue and white, for the occasion.

“This was, by far, my favorite day of the school year,” Craven said. “This event was embraced by every member of our school community, and the sight of a thousand smiles in the bleachers is inspiring and heartwarming.”

Jennifer Horne, who teaches life skills and core subjects to many of the students on the team, saw the day this way:

“Unified basketball games are the best, most inspiring athletic events I have ever attended. The spirit of good will, support and joy that carries from the team to the crowd and back again cannot be found in any other venue.”

After the gym was cleared and athletes’ parents claimed posters to display at home, both teams met up in Windows on West Street, Milford High School’s restaurant.

Sharing tables and congratulations, the students shared something they could all enjoy: big slices of pizza.