Buddies of all ages coach, play and enjoy basketball at Milltown

Buddies of all ages coach, play and enjoy basketball at Milltown

Deven Patel developed a passion when he was just a youngster attending Van Holten Primary School years ago.

Today, his loyalty and love of participating in an admirable program is on full display every time he puts on his tee shirt and laces on his sneakers when he enters the gymnasium at the Milltown Primary School.

This senior and his schoolmates from Bridgewater-Raritan High School ignore sitting at their video games or watching television and instead they gather in the gym at Milltown to follow through in what they appear to really enjoy doing—coaching and teaching basketball to youngsters.

Deven and eight other Bridgewater-Raritan High School kids are volunteering their time to coach in the school’s highly popular Buddy Basketball program.

And on this afternoon of March 15, the gym is packed with players and coaches who are preparing for their own version of March Madness—-the Milltown Buddy Basketball Tournament that will be staged on Wednesday, March 29.

The players will transfer their skills that were honed by their energetic coaches and play this showdown at the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m.

Bragging rights will be at stake the evening of March 29 when Milltown Maroon squares off against Milltown Gold.

Buddy Basketball, which was launched at Milltown 15 years ago, brings special education students together with their fellow schoolmates who are involved as the 4th Grade Peer Models. Or a better yet description is that these are kids who care---and do like to play basketball, too.

Deven Patel certainly cares—and not because he has a person by the name of Debbie Shah-Patel who happens to reside with him.

Debbie Shah-Patel is one of the spearheads to this prized event. And this passionate teacher, who is the game’s co-director with Debbie Rothbard, is Deven’s mom.

She has another son, Jayden Patel, who is a sophomore, who was also showing the Milltown kids the fundamentals of basketball that day.

“It is so special that my two sons are coaches,” said Ms. Shah-Patel, who is a Speech-Language Specialist at Milltown. “This is so much fun and what an experience.

Her spirit rubs off on her sons.

“Working with children with special needs is a passion of mine,’ Deven explained. “I was a Basketball Buddy at Van Holten, Eisenhower (Primary), and the Middle School. It is coming full circle with me being a coach now. I stuck with it. I love being a part of a program that gives kids an opportunity to play a sport and have fun”

His high school classmate, Chris McKinney, also shared his desire and his devotion to be here in the gym.

“I like giving kids the chance to be a part of a team,’ Chris said. “It is challenging for them as they grow from it. It is very rewarding.”

Maria Alvarez, who is a Special Education Assistant in the Autism Program at Milltown, is one of the many school staff members who are volunteering their time for such a great cause.

“What is there not to like about this,” she said. “Kids are doing something that they would not get a chance to do.”

So what do the kids-or these hoop stars—have to say.

“I am making new friends and I like to dribble and shoot,” said Bella, who is a 3rd Grader.

“I like to be here to help my friends and cheer them on,” said Jack, who is in 4th Grade.

“I love my coaches,” declared Jeicko, who is in 4th Grade.

How can you not love the nine high school guys who are devoting their time and energy as well as the Milltown staff and the two head coaches, Bryan Smith and Griffin Figel, who are Physical Education Teachers at Milltown.

“This is about getting students involved and to make new friendships and have respect for each other,” Smith revealed. “There is a family atmosphere here. The kids talk about the game every day. I can’t wait for the game to come”

The biggest fan and supporter is Milltown’s cherished Principal, Matt Lembo.

“This is just another experience that unites our school,” Principal Lembo said.

Ms. Shah-Patel shared how precious this program is to her.

“Basketball Buddies holds a special place in my heart with so many fond memories made throughout the past 15 years. It is amazing how one event can unify our entire school with such strong school spirit, teamwork and acceptance of diversity.”

Below are the names of the good-hearted volunteers who make this event such a slam dunk.

Bridgewater-Raritan High School student volunteer coaches

Tommy Hughes- sophomore

Joey La Stella- sophomore

Jayden Patel-sophomore

Jake Winchok-junior

Deven Patel -senior

Anthony D'Arco- senior

Aidan Costa- senior

Christopher McKinney- senior

Joey Cinque- senior


Milltown Primary School staff volunteers

Bryan Smith & Griffin Figel- Physical Education Teachers/Head Coaches

Debbie Shah-Patel, Gina Quaglia, Quinn Hickey, Dayna Thomas, Katie Navarro, Debbie Rothbard, Kristy Langione, Jaime Bowman, MaryJane Hart, Amy Stires, Maggie Korbo, Anne Marie Luginsland, Melissa Oliver, Beth Hopkins, Jeanne Panzarino, Joanne Weems, Tara Mongno, Sharon Moss, Maria Alvarez, Maria Shimko, and Melissa Sblendorio and Principal Matt Lembo.


Community Volunteers

Jim Gano of Crown Trophy in Flemington

DJ-Frank LoSchiavo of Primetime events in Bridgewater