BY RICHARD RHINEHART
Boston, Massachusetts, February 7, 2012 – Boston’s fabled TD Garden hosted two basketball games on February 5. In one contest, the Boston Celtics easily beat the Memphis Grizzlies 98-80. In the second contest, no score was kept, but the participating youth had the experience of a lifetime.
For the fifth year, the Celtics Experience offered young disabled and able-bodied children the unique opportunity to play together in a game on the Garden’s fabled parquet floor. Created by the non-profit Ultimate Sports Program, the halftime game was sponsored this year by the Boston Celtics and by World T.E.A.M. Sports.
“Our program is very grateful for the support from World T.E.A.M. Sports,” said Steven Berube, the President of Ultimate Sports Program. About 30 children from Massachusetts participated in the event, which included tickets to the Celtics game, the halftime on-court game, and an opportunity to participate in a “fan tunnel” welcoming the Celtics back onto court following halftime.
An 11-year-old USP member with Emanuel Syndrome, Madison, was selected to throw out the ball for the tip-off of the inclusive halftime game. “She was very nervous but once on the floor, she was heaven,” reports Berube. “Willie May from the Celtics, who announced our game to the Garden crowd, helped Madison onto center court and spoke very highly about USP’s ability to take kids with special needs like Madison and simply let them experience sports and make friends.”
The play during the contest was much more supportive than during the professional game. “Mary Andrews won a game ball for a very cool reaction during the game,” said Berube. “A little girl with autism on the opposing team struggled with a pass and it ended up in Mary’s hands. Instead of heading up court to take a shot, Mary simply stepped over and placed the ball in the little girl’s hands. She got a huge hand from the Garden Crowd.” Berube noted that Andrews “is a gifted student and athlete who loved the reason she got the ball as much as receiving the actual ball.”
Another USP member, Nick Vanderwood, sang the National Anthem for the game. He “gave the Garden crowd chills,” recalled Berube. “Everyone we met the rest of the day would pull him aside to tell him how great he did. Many saying, it was the best National Anthem they have ever heard!”
World T.E.A.M. Sports provided participants with jerseys and sports bags containing wristbands and water bottles. Kimberly Warpinski, World T.E.A.M. Sports’ event coordinator, attended the Celtics Experience and assisted with the planning and coordination. “The kids were all smiles playing at halftime and welcoming the players back out onto the court with a fan tunnel,” she said.
The Celtics also provided shirts and three signed balls for participants, and for USP members who did not make it into the game.
Ultimate Sports Program is a part of the Association for Community Living in Massachusetts. Open to all youth, the program provides free sports programs and is dedicated to creating opportunities, improving lives and building relationships. World T.E.A.M. Sports has sponsored events with USP in recent years in creating inclusive sports events for disabled and able-bodied participants. Future collaborations are anticipated.