This & That – Cheering for Alex Naccarato

Once upon a time, Springfield’s Riverside Gymnasium was one of the centers of the Vermont Basketball universe. It was spanking new, state tournament games were played there and everyone sang its praise. Now over fifty years later, few people consider the once spiffy building special.

I have spent many enjoyable days in the confines of Riverside. Recently, I made peace with myself, that all its’ glory days had likely gone by. Each time I attend a game it hurts a little to see the size of the crowds. Some are bigger than others, but with the bleachers pulled out on only one side, I had settled there would not be another grand basketball experience between the walls.

Then came Friday night. Just when I had accepted it would take something close to a miracle to ever get the bleachers pulled out on both sides of the court, a spectacle appeared in the friendly confines of the once gleaming palace. A notable event broke out that didn’t compared to any basketball game ever played there.

One might guess that it might take a Springfield-Bellows Falls match-up to create such hype and we are sure such a get together had a little to do with it, but this night went way beyond the emotion of any contest ever played between these two rivals. A night that “started as simple as a benefit game hosted by the Booster Club,” according to a Springfield senior player by the name of Alex Naccarato, turned into a night that had Springfield people wearing and saluting the color purple (actually lavender to be exact) and left almost everyone with an emotional outbreak they never saw coming.

Alex naccarato
Alex Naccarato wiping away some tears, as the moving ceremony was bringing tears from people on both sides. Alex took everything in and later that evening responded graciously through a Facebook posting he has allowed us to share with you.
“It started as simple as a benefit game hosted by the Booster Club. I accepted the offer, but never did I know that it would turn in to what it did. So many people have reached out to me: some even being from the pacific coast. So many people have helped me thus far, and it hasn’t ended yet. Tonight, I experienced something special. I was in a gymnasium filled with people who wanted to deliver their support. Man, was it delivered … I hope you know that it takes a lot for me to tear up, but tonight, I couldn’t hold back. The kind words and actions from everybody tonight were overwhelming and my emotions took over. Every single person in the gym made me feel important and ensured me that my life is filled with great purpose and meaning. Because I absolutely hate public speaking, I’ve chosen a Facebook status as a way to extend my gratitude to everybody, whether you were at the game or not. I’m so, so lucky to be surrounded by amazing people. Thank you all for making tonight so special and for making sure that a negative health condition doesn’t control my life.”
Photo by Denise E. Photography

Naccarato is at the heart of this story. He was enjoying his senior season of being a Cosmo basketball player, when he was interrupted through no fault of his own.

“I just kept getting really tired,” Naccarato told us Monday evening, adding, “eventually I came home one night and told my mother I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to quit basketball,” a sport that he loved. This proclamation led to a trip to the doctor’s office.

While Naccarato felt tired, Springfield Cosmo Coach Mike Ruppel noted, “I had coached Alex for three years and he was always a kid who gave 100 percent. Both the staff and I noticed, he had become a step slower and had lost weight. Something wasn’t quite right.”

Mono was everyone’s first guess, but unfortunately as bad as that can be in ones life interruption, it wasn’t that simple. Tests and more tests and periods of wait, ended in a diagnosis of Hodgkins Lymphoma. A chest x-ray helped lead to the discovery of an enlarged lymph node in his upper right chest and a biopsy led to the diagnosis.

For those not familiar with Hodgkins Disease, Naccarato was told, “If you have cancer, it is a good kind to have.” I know other sufferers who have been told the same thing, including yours truly, who fought the disease in 1994. Beating the disease takes its toll, but the survival rate is high.

All of Naccarato’s gears are lined up in the direction of overcoming this disease. The large crowd, which turned out for the basketball game, saw some incredible uplifting events.

It was a surprise to most, when the Bellows Falls team came out for warm-ups all wearing number 10 warm-up jerseys to salute Alex. Naccarato expected some money would be raised on this evening to help with medical expenses and to help his family overcome a loss of funds, as they fight through this adversity. However what happened was not in his wildest expectations.

“People said we would get a big crowd, but I didn’t expect that big a crowd. My great uncle (Andy Bladyka) took me to a basketball game when I first moved here and there was a big crowd and a college type atmosphere. This is the closest to that it has been since I came to high school. I didn’t expect the stands to fill up like that. It was really amazing,” Naccarato said reflecting back three days later.

Bladyka, who is the Springfield High School Softball coach and the town’s recreation director, told me that Alex is “a very intelligent, very likeable, young man and an outstanding student, who treats freshmen and seniors like they are equals.”

Hours after Bladyka uttered those words a parent of a Cosmo freshman player said to me “Alex is the ultimate role model. He treats my freshman son like he was his best friend and it has helped with his confidence all over.”

During my sit down with Naccarato, it was obvious this young man has special qualities galore.

Even Alex had wondered at times, if he would be able to attend his own night last Friday. He had a chemotherapy appointment that day and energy can certainly be a challenge after that. If his own drive allowed him to arrive that evening, the gathering pushed him the rest of the way through.

“I know treatments were not going to be easy,” he told me, “but they have been a lot better than I expected.”

I asked him if he ever asked himself, why me and now?

“Yes, I have thought of that. I think I do things right, so you wonder, but I am one who believes that there is a reason for everything, so maybe I will some day find out,” he answered.

His future is on hold, but at the same time it isn’t.

“I am definitely going to college, but I am not sure where.” Naccarato stated.

He has been accepted at the University of Vermont and would be more than happy to be in their Wildlife and Fisheries program, but he really wants wait to see what all the options are.

alex naccarato
Both teams are lined up for the National Anthem before the Basketball Game at Dressel Gym last Friday night. The game was a highlight of an evening set aside to celebrate fund raising efforts for Alex Naccarato’s battle with Hodgkin’s Disease.
In an effort to highlight everyone’s solidarity in their support of Alex, both teams wore warm-up shirts with Alex’s number 10 highlighted on the back.
Photo by Denise E. Photography

His assistant principal Jade Costello says, “he’s an example of what teachers, coaches and school leaders hope for when we send young people off into our world.”

Alex has spent his high school years building his skills and putting himself in a position to have choices about his future. He does and doesn’t have full control now. His life has been interrupted and at some time things should return to normal.

In the meantime, the community is doing their part in nudging him over the top with his battle. Of all that community effort, Costello says, “there couldn’t be a more deserving kid.” There are a whole lot of people who agree.

The surrounding Springfield Area community has come through with flying colors.
Ongoing efforts are continuing to add to the totals raised. Anyone who wishes to make a donation may send their offering to: Rachel Hunter, President, Springfield Boosters Club, PO Box 666, Springfield, Vt. 05156.

The Booster Club is also presently supporting the efforts of a raffle for the same cause, which can be accessed online by googling: Eventbrite: Alex Naccarato – Raffle Hoops For A Cause, which has a March 10 deadline and includes two major prizes. First prize is 4 tickets to the Celtics versus Miami Sunday, March 26 and includes overnight accommodations. The second prize is a Snowboard Package which includes a board, a jacket and pants.

alex naccarato
Springfield assistant principal Jade Costello addresses the crowd during the fund raising event for Alex Naccarato. She thanked Bellows Falls for their big donation saying, “Over the past few weeks, Bellows Falls has come together to put the town rivalry aside in support of Alex and his battle with Hodgkins. At this time I would like to ask the Bellows Falls Boys Basketball team to come forward and present a check on behalf of the community.”
Costello wittingly went on to say, “I have to say to the Terriers, to enjoy this night because it is the only night you will see Dressel Gym covered in Purple.”
alex naccarato
The Springfield Cosmos receiving last minute instructions before taking the floor in the meeting with Bellows Falls. The Cosmos had bowed to the Terriers 87-54 earlier in the season, but due to likely both, the emotion of the evening and an improved Springfield team, especially on defense, the score was much closer last Friday night, 49-34.
It is difficult when a team is having a down and possibly winless season, to measure progress, but, the two scores versus Bellows Falls are likely to do just that, show a great amount of progress. The Terriers went on from the Springfield game and showed they are likely competing at their highest level now, upsetting Woodstock and pushing a strong Twin Valley squad to overtime, before bowing in Whitingham, a further indication of improvement on the Cosmos part.
Photo by Denise E. Photography
alex naccararto
Alex thanking Bellows Falls Junior Varsity Coach Nate Haskell for the kind donation the Bellows Falls community made to help his family offset the cost of his battle with Hodgkins Lymphoma. Bellows Falls had become the center of this effort, thanks to the work of the Springfield Booster Club headed by Rachel and Denise Hunter, who set up the benefit game and have encouraged other fund raising efforts.
Green Mountain staged four basketball games in Alex’s honor last weekend and donated all the receipts to the Alex, including what we are told an incredible all day barbeque put on by the Chester Fire Department. When Springfield visited Leland + Gray, the game day receipts were donated and Windsor is doing the same in a game with Springfield this week. 
Photo by Denise E. Photography

 

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