Participants in the 2012 STAR program gather at the last session, which included a pizza party, games, and a visit by special guests: members of the UVM men’s basketball team.

STAR Athletes Shine

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Thursday March 15, 2012

As a senior at South Burlington High School, Brandon Magarine knows a good thing when he sees it—and he saw it in the STAR Basketball Program.

“I never liked basketball before, but when I did STAR basketball I liked it because it was fun and energetic,” he explained.  In fact, continued Mr. Magarine, “there were a lot of special needs kids who didn’t like basketball at first but then did after doing the STAR program.”

STAR, or Special Talents Adaptive Recreation, is the brainchild of residents Leslie and Chris Capano, who developed the program because “we wanted to find a program for our son to participate in,” explained Ms. Capano.  “He has special needs making it hard for him to participate in most sport activities.”

The first step in starting the program was to find space, so when resident Mike Feitelberg at The Edge generously offered the Essex facility, noted Ms. Capano, “the rest of the puzzle fell into place.”

That puzzle included contacting former SBHS varsity assistant coach Jim Nolting and current SBHS varsity head coach Mike Kennedy so that the STAR athletes would have buddies in local high school athletes to build skills, play scrimmages, and create a supportive community on the court.  Additional buddies, noted Ms. Capano, “were past and present F.H. Tuttle Middle School basketball players, SBHS freshman basketball players, and other local South Burlington athletes.”  The combination of dedicated STAR athletes and families, the generosity of a local business, and the commitment of South Burlington athletes and coaches was the perfect recipe for success.

Coach Kennedy was grateful for this opportunity for his athletes:  “I thought my players did a fantastic job working with the STAR kids.  They came voluntarily on Saturday afternoons and selflessly gave of themselves, providing instruction, encouragement, and support to the STAR participants. In so doing, I think my players demonstrated their understanding that playing a varsity sport is about more than wins and losses: it’s a privilege that includes representing the school, the community, and giving back to both.”

SBHS senior Sean Keogh, varsity basketball co-captain, agreed and added, “A program like STAR is important in the community because it shows that we all help each other. The community supports our team well, and we wanted to show that we appreciate it.”

“I loved working with the kids in STAR,” noted SBHS sophomore Bryant Hinchcliffe, a member of the varsity basketball team and a volunteer in the program.  “They always came with a smile on their faces and loved being there. They all seemed to be having fun.”

STAR athlete Joe Saunders, a sophomore at South Burlington High School, confirmed that playing ball with the SBHS basketball team members was “really fun.”  His mother, Patty Saunders, added, “This program was great because Joe had the opportunity to do something active with peers.  I so appreciated the group of mentors and adults who were committed to the program (six Saturdays!) and were there just so Joe and his peers could have a good experience.  The mentor kids were enthusiastic and attentive.  I’m grateful to all of the people who gave their time, energy, and money to make this program possible.”

Andrew Mallory, SBHS senior and varsity basketball co-captain, spoke to the sustainability of the program:  “I would say other athletes should get involved because you really get a great feeling knowing you’re helping, and [the participants] are very grateful for it.”

As the visionary behind this inspirational idea, Ms. Capano is quick to give credit to the team approach:  “It was a total group effort, and we are very thankful to everyone who helped to bring it to life.  It was an extremely rewarding experience for everyone involved.”

SOURCE: Susie Merrick, Contributor