By Janee Law
The inaugural season of Northport-East Northport’s Unified Basketball Team, a squad made up of athletes with special needs, is in the books.
Andrew D’Eloia, coach of the team, and also coach of the varsity basketball team, said the “first season was a huge success,” calling it the most rewarding experience of his coaching career.
“It was amazing to see the improvement of all the student athletes on the team,” he said. They “were ecstatic to wear the uniform; you could just see the pride and joy in their face when they went out onto the court in uniform and represented their school.”
The team was made up of Jake Cardinale, Owen Conzone, Abbi Davis, Kyle Faltings, Justin Flood, Chris Hall, Myles Kirchner, Justin McCoy, Connor Morgan, Matt Neber and Nick Reale.
There were also player partners who collaborated with the team during practices and games.
The season, which began in April and ran through mid-May, consisted of 12 practices and seven games, D’Eloia said. Northport’s squad was one of four in Suffolk — others hailed from Walt Whitman, William Floyd and Amityville. D’Eloia said Northport played each team twice.
The team was supported by school community throughout the season, D’Eloia said.
“There were times when different varsity teams came out to support the team,” he said, adding that the Tigers cheerleading squad typically cheered from the sidelines. “It was amazing to see the community rally around the team.”
D’Eloia said the goal for next season is to build off the accomplishments of this past season, and get some more students actively involved so that the program continues to grow.
He also hopes to “work with some of the students in the off-season to keep them involved in basketball so that they can build off of the momentum they already generated.”