The Tewksbury Police Association has an interesting way of saying “Thank You” to its donors. Instead of greeting cards or gift bags, they bring the New England Patriots to town.
The annual Celebrity Basketball game against current members of the New England Patriots was held on Tuesday, May 14. Representing the Patriots were Marcus Forston, Mike Rivera, Ras-I Dowling, Maquice Cole, Dane Fletcher and LeGarrette Blount. They went head-to-head with some of Tewksbury’s finest to the delight of dozens of cheering fans, young and old.
Deputy Police Officer, and player for the Tewksbury team, Joe Voto explained the purpose of the event.
“This is our appreciation night for all those people who have donated,” Voto said. “It doesn’t cost anything to get in, it’s kind-of open to the public, it’s just an appreciation night for all those who have come out to support us.”
The Police Association is a charity force that is active in dozens of causes in and around the town of Tewksbury. Causes include everything from local athletics to dinners for impoverished families to scholarship programs. The goal of the Celebrity Basketball game is to reward sponsors and donors, as well as to create a community event.
“It’s all about our community, and this is just another way to service our community,” said Voto.
Voto emphasized the importance of the Association’s connection with athletics and what this meant for the town as a whole.
“We have youth sports for all the kids,” said Voto. “And the Association allows us to do a lot of other things that town sports can’t do. We allow people who don’t have any money to participate.”
“We fundraise so that the kids don’t have to spend any money,” said Voto.
The event was made possible with the assistance of Mike Quinn, who served as the go-between of the event planners and the Patriots. Quinn also helped organize the game and autograph session. Apparently, it did not take a lot of work to convince players to come out in support of a local charity.
“A lot of them like to come out and do something for charity, so this is a great event for them,” said Quinn.
Despite the fact that the home team was made up of Tewksbury locals, police officers and selectman, the Tewksbury High gym was packed with Patriots jerseys, hats and memorabilia and it was not hard to see which team had captured the energy of the crowd. The spectators exploded with applause every time one of the Pats sank a three or slammed the basketball down for a dunk.
Even when the Patriots messed up, it provided opportunity for the crowd to laugh and cheer. When Blount bungled an alley-oop, it seemed like the hoop was going to be ripped off the ceiling with the force.
“Did you see that?” crowed a delighted young fan.
Tewksbury’s starting line-up consisted of Mike Donovan, DJ Peterson, Pat Harrington, Chris Byrne and Patrick Duffy. Also playing for Tewksbury were Scott Wilson, Kim O’Keefe, Jason Gage, David Gay, Joe Kelley and Voto.
The Patriots made a real effort to connect with the fans during the course of the game. Before the game, Fletcher took a moment to play catch with a small boy wearing a Tom Brady jersey. Young fans were selected from the crowd to take the free-throws. A few of the smaller children were hoisted up into the air by Fletcher so that they could have a better shot at the hoop. Younger fans were also called upon to throw out the opening pass of the quarter.
As the game wore on, a group of young fans abandoned the bleachers and took up seats on the courtside, inches away from where their favorite Patriots and some local heroes were duking it out.
At half-time, the players sat for autographs at three tables around the court. Lines stretched across the court, packed with fans of all ages. Certain fans who paid in advance received autographed footballs.
The game was not just an opportunity for fans to see the players they love, but for the players to keep in touch with the region which they represent.
“It’s a way for them to mix with the crowd and the fans and give back to the community,” said Quinn. “It kind of works out for everybody.”
Fans seemed to have a blast even when the game was on hiatus. During half-time, young players swarmed the court to take free throws, three-pointers, lay-ups and all variety of trick shots. Other fans huddled around, comparing autographs and seeing who had the most.
Tewksbury’s Ken Carignan enjoyed the family friendly spectacle.
“My son loves basketball and it’s amazing to see how good these guys can play,” said Carignan.
This connection with young members of the community is of vital importance to the Police Association.
“We want to be in touch with our youth,” said Voto. “And we want to be accessible to all the kids if they want to talk to us.”
The Patriots dominated the game, with Blount draining a three for the first basket of the night. The Tewksbury team was assisted by the announcer, who repeatedly raised the value of shots, offering Tewksbury an extra five points if they made a shot within a certain time frame.
“They need a couple of ten pointers,” observed Carignan.
Gradually, the Tewksbury team closed the gap. In the fourth quarter, Peterson drained a three-pointer to bring the score to 69-67, Patriots advantage. Voto then tied up the game, 69-69. After a foul on the Patriots, a young girl named Adriana, wearing a silver Brady jersey, was summoned onto the court.
Adriana nailed the free-throw, putting the score at 70-69 and giving Tewksbury its first lead of the night.
The Patriots reclaimed the lead and the game finished with a final score of 78-74.
But the Tewksbury Police Association and the people of Tewksbury are the true victors. They got to see these stars up close and now get to move on to more projects and more community events. There are youth basketball and street hockey leagues to be run and games to be had.
“Plus, we have police work to do,” joked Voto.