By Ben Bograd
This winter, there is a third team lacing up their sneakers to represent Millburn High School: the Unified Basketball Team.
It is composed of students with and without learning disabilities, and gives everyone a chance to shine on the court. Head coach, Eric Cantagallo, described the team as fostering values of “teamwork, cooperation, understanding, selflessness and family.”
Student, Vikram Ganti, is enthusiastic about Unified Basketball.
“I love being on the Unified team because it gives me a chance to play a sport and lets me play for the Millburn Millers,” said Ganti.
A freshman, Ganti feels playing Unified Basketball is one of the primary reasons he loves high school. He described it as a supportive environment, allowing him to enjoy a sport that was entirely new to him.
Ganti decided to play after enjoying his time with Unified soccer during the first months of the year. He was so positive about the experience, he encouraged his friend and fellow freshman, Justin Ali, to join the Millers as well.
Though initially hesitant, Ali was convinced by both his mom and Ganti to join. He soon was glad for their advice. He and Ganti had a great time playing in a tournament against Chatham, Ridge, Randolph and Union City. Ali scored a number of baskets and played tight defense, all the while enjoying making new friends.
Ali also affirmed Ganti’s sentiment about the group’s positive and inclusive nature, noting how students were continually offering “words of encouragement.”
Cantagallo, who is also the head coach of Millburn JV Baseball, noted that many of his favorite coaching memories come from his time with Unified Basketball.
Roger Askins, a special education teacher at Millburn and one of the team’s advisors, reiterated how special it is for many of the players.
“I work in the high school so I get to see the students after the games and practices and they are always so excited to tell me all about their experiences,” said Askins. “Unified sports give them positive social and athletic options that create lifelong memories.”
The team’s season will culminate with the Unified Cup Championship on April 8. Held at Princeton University, the event will be a perfect opportunity to showcase its hard work over the last few months, while also getting to enjoy the excitement of a large tournament with teams from across the state.
The Unified Basketball team opens doors to let kids just be kids, playing for themselves, each other and the name on the front of their jersey.