Published May 24, 2019


MELROSE — It’s a fun game to play: Name the best Wakefield-Melrose sporting event you’ve ever been to.

How do you choose between generations of epic match ups and stunning conclusions?

Luckily for the packed house at Melrose High School on May 9 for the first ever Unified Basketball matchup between the two schools, that question became very easy to answer.

This was the best Red Raider-Warrior event thus far.

As a fan, it had everything you want in a great basketball game including solid teamwork, star performances and an exciting ending.

JAMES KAVANAUGH and his teammates celebrate during the Melrose Unified basketball brawl against Wakefield. (Dan Pawlowski photo)

More importantly, as the name rightfully implies, Unified Basketball showed everyone what bringing people together can do.The concept alone is unique. Bringing together student athletes with and without disabilities certainly encourages inclusion, empathy and respect. But Unified Basketball proved to be much more. Because for the first time in the history of Wakefield-Melrose sporting events, there was no home or away team.

Unified was the crowd.

And that’s what the players remembered most.

“It was fun, it was an awesome crowd,” said Wakefield’s Zach Carito the leading scorer for the Warriors.

Erik Rego, who had a smooth runner working all game, picked up the first basket of the game and dove for a loose ball to gain back possession on the next one. A 3 from Alex Revutchi got the fans going and he followed that up with a two. Later, another two from Rego gave Melrose a commanding 17-6 lead. 

James Kavanaugh hit a buzzer-beater to give Melrose a 19-10 lead at the break. Carito and the Warriors got back into it but Kavanaugh stole the show with some flashy dibbling, weaving around the defense as the fans roared. Rego finished the fourth quarter strong with back-to-back buckets one after some strong offensive rebounding and Melrose held on for a big win in their first game. 

“We play strong and we’re really tough,” said Kavanaugh when asked how Melrose was able to hold on for the win. 

“Kudos to Melrose,” said Wakefield head coach Donna Conlon, who was impressed with the environment for Melrose’s first ever Unified game. “Everyone was playing together and having fun.”

“It was an awesome first game,” agreed Melrose head coach Connor Gilbert. “The kids were super excited to get involved, the crowd was awesome; it was a great start and it can only get better from here.”

Unified sports will continue to grow at a rapid pace so long as teams continue include student athletes from all walks of life.

The team includes Marino Preziosa, a starter on the Melrose varsity basketball team and includes Jack and Harry Jaggers who played JV last year. The five incoming captains for Wakefield’s boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball teams are playing on the Wakefield Unified team.

They’re participating, not because it looks good on a resume, but because basketball, and all the relationships gained and values cultivated through their time with the sport, has been so important to them, that they believe everyone should experience it in a team environment.

“I think the program is an awesome opportunity for all students to get involved in a great cause and I could not think of a better way to do so than through basketball,” said Wakefield boys’ basketball captain Ryan Marcus. “In sports, working as a team is a major aspect, so opportunities like the Unified Basketball program are a great way to do that.”

Athletic Director Steve Fogarty worked with Lexington’s Naomi Martin and Wakefield’s Brendan Kent to create the three-team basketball league this spring. Their hope is that it can expand to more sports as soon as possible.

Anyone at the game on Thursday wouldn’t be surprised to see Unified Sports one day blossom into a Middlesex League-wide endeavor. Just ask Carito, who didn’t give a typical answer when asked about his favorite part of his high-scoring game.

“My favorite part is that all my teammates did a great job,” said Carito. “We have a good team and we’re having fun.”

A fun game to play, indeed.