On Thursday morning, players took their positions on the polished, wooden basketball court and, while anticipating the course of the jump ball leaving the referee’s hand, weren’t at all distracted by the lively cheering coming from the bleachers. Apparent in the school band’s thunderous booms and the unbroken roaring of students, faculty and staff was the understanding that Medford basketball does something very special to the spirit of Meadowbrook High School.
Many piled into the gym that morning to see Meadowbrook’s first game of the Medford league season, where, against Monacan, the Monarchs started this year with a win in hopes to avenge last year’s second place finish behind James River. Created in the 1970’s for students from Richmond, Chesterfield and Henrico with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities (MoID), Medford basketball was established by a teacher in Henrico who wanted his students to experience the same opportunities to play sports as their peers.
Originally held annually, Medford basketball has proven to be a success at Meadowbrook, establishing itself as a crucial component of the Monarch tradition.
“Last year was our first year with Medford and the kids just love it; all the students love it and they get into it,” said Principal Thomas E. Ferrell, Jr. “It boosts school spirit, boosts morale and just gives us something to look forward to each time there’s a Medford League basketball game.”
Students attending that morning chose the Medford game over eating during their lunchtime, and clearly demonstrated to Ferrell, and a majority of other administrators present, that the student body was more than supportive of players (from both teams), as well as the cheerleaders from the school’s MoID program on the sidelines.
That same morning, one student in particular, senior Brittany Young, 17, shared some insight about the school actively supporting the league’s mission and its players.
“Last year, there were a lot more people − they just don’t know about it,” she said. “So, all we have to do is get the news out there, let them know what it is and what we’re doing it for.”
Perhaps this is true, but two people are already playing a significant role to promote Medford basketball at Meadowbrook: Special Education teachers Lesa Welton and David Britton, both teachers at Meadowbrook. Welton, an experienced teacher with this population of student-athletes, has been heavily involved with the league since her days at L.C. Bird and Matoaca, and feels it positively impacts individuals throughout the school.
“It makes the rest of the population of the school aware that this is a special league and there are some different expectations,” she said. “Before we came to Meadowbrook, this population was not here, and had never been, and so the general population really didn’t know what to expect. So, by showing that we have fun just like everybody else, they are a little more accepting ….”
Welton, who interpreted her colleagues bringing their classes to the game as a sign of support for the program, was “delighted” to see students attend the game of their own accord, and felt compelled to add that watching them play basketball reveals a lot about the abilities of her students. And, for Welton, advocating the awareness of these athletes’ special skill is something accomplished through the Medford League, which simultaneously allows her students an opportunity to experience what high school has to offer.
“Unless they have a friend or a sibling with special needs, they have no understanding of the talent, they’re excellent athletes …,” she said.
Many other local schools with this kind of program can participate in the Medford League season, including Bird, Mataoca and Thomas Dale. Each school with this program may play an eight-game season, not counting playoffs, with their farthest opponent being Prince Edward County, and has the chance of replicating the kind of success seen at Meadowbrook.
School nurse Judy Lee attended the game that morning and has a daily relationship with the students in the program. For her, discerning the school’s approval of the league is of crucial value: “What’s really important is that the faculty and staff at Meadowbrook support the Medford basketball league here at school.”