Valley Stream South High School’s basketball program has garnered a lot of attention in recent weeks due largely to its boys’ team making a deep playoff run, but South’s newest basketball team is making some waves of its own.
The school’s Challenger basketball team, which offers students with special needs the opportunity to be part of a school sports team and to compete against neighboring districts, is wrapping up its first season.
Jessica Ricotta, a health and physical education teacher in her first year at South, is the coach of the team. There are 14 students, both boys and girls, in grades 7-12 on the team.
“It has been truly rewarding,” Ricotta said of coaching the team. “It honestly brings joy and a sense of value to my life. This has been an eye-opening experience, witnessing the students’ happiness as they score a basket, bringing a smile to their faces, which resonates within us all.”
Ricotta said Scott Stueber, the Central High School District athletic director, brought the Challenger Basketball Program to her attention earlier in the year. She then met with South Principal Maureen Henry, who shared her enthusiasm for the program and the team was born.
Each member of the team is a Central High School District resident who attend a special program at South. The season began in mid-February and ends in early March. This year, the team was scheduled to play five games against neighboring schools in different districts.
On Feb. 28, South traveled to Oceanside High School to take on the Sailors in a friendly but competitive matchup. The teams first hit the court for warm-ups, then took their positions and the game got underway. Each team scored baskets consistently and the respective coaches made substitutions midway through each of the game’s four quarters so everyone got a chance to play.
Nicole Oviedo, a 15-year-old who attends South, said she has a lot of fun playing basketball. “My favorite part is making a basket,” she said. “I feel excited.”
For Kris Perez, 15, his favorite part is shooting. During the game against Oceanside, Perez was dribbling, shooting and passing all over the court.
Homeroom special education teacher Kelli Meier played big role in the development of the program, Ricotta said. Also, teaching assistant Dan Drumm has helped organize practices, officiated games and worked on fundamental skills with the players. Sherri House, who works with the students in the classroom, encourages the students and reinforces their self-esteem, Ricotta added.
“The entire South community has been nothing but supportive,” Ricotta said, “from students in school clubs making posters, baking treats for the team and assisting players on the court during games, to teachers, including our principal Maureen Henry, excitably cheering in the stands with words of encouragement and genuine enthusiasm during games.” Ricotta added that the South Parents Club also donated jerseys for the team to use.
Barbara Madigan, a guidance counselor at South, made the trip to Oceanside to cheer on the students with a few of her colleagues. “It’s fantastic to see,” she said. “It’s great to see them happy that they’re participating.” She added that the kids constantly talk about their games in school because they’re so excited.
Also in the stands cheering on South was Kevin Donovan, whose 14-year-old daughter, Catherine, plays on the team. “They don’t put pressure on them which is nice and they’re all having a great time,” he said. “When [Catherine] comes home she’s exhausted and she’s talking about how much fun it was.”
Ricotta said the students were ecstatic to join the team and practice in the gymnasium every other day during ninth period. “This not only gives the students more time to practice and be physically active,” she said, “but also time to work on skills beyond the physical such as teamwork, communication and self-expression.”