There's an old adage that states it takes a village to raise a child. While that saying is true, when the village or community embraces an entire group of children, the positive impact of the support is unquantifiable.
The 2015-16 Taconic boys basketball team embodies the power of strong community support. The team's biggest supporters are the mothers of the team. They've created a bond with the players that was built over years of playing sports together.
That group of players, especially the current junior class, has developed into the core of the Berkshire North champion Braves.
"I've been involved with the boys' sports since they were little," Alicia Ricci, mother of junior guard Deonte Sandifer, said. "You grow up with the same families playing ball since the YMCA, kindergarten, Boys and Girls Club and into high school, and they become a family."
Coach Bill Heaphy is responsible for the players growth on the court, but he said the mothers are a key part of the team's support system.
From organizing bottles and cans drives and other fundraisers, to shopping for and preparing food for the concession stand, each mother plays a role in the daily functions of the team. Mothers such as Heather McNeice and Kathy Murphy with their computer and marketing skills, or the Valuski's (Mark and Greta) helping with their Berkshire Print Shop, or Devon Walker's mother, Heather Smegal, serving as the team's photographer. Tasha Bellio, Izaiya Mestre's mother, serves the main communicator in the group, leading a group message between the mothers, keeping everyone updated on upcoming activities.
"It's amazing," Bellio said. "For us to all work together. Most of us are single parents and we've been together since the Boys Club [basketball league]. ... We're all there and have each other's back."
On the floor, Beth Ringgold has a unique relationship with her son Treyvon. The athletic senior forward is a fiery player but, if his emotions run too high, Beth can help keep him focused on the game, sometimes without even saying a word.
"It's mostly a focus kind of thing," Treyvon Ringgold said. "She's helped me keep my focus even when I was playing other sports when I was younger. If I make a mistake, it's kind of instinct to look over to her."
Ringgold receives encouragement from his mother, and Sandifer and Mestre have a brother-like relationship that leads to great chemistry on the court, further highlighting the family dynamic of the team.
The duo's been close friends since birth, a friendship sparked from their mothers' friendship with each other.
"Our chemistry is like this," Sandifer said, crossing his fingers. "It's hard to stop us when we're going at it with each other. When one of us is off, the other will pick it up. That's the great thing about playing with [Mestre] for so long."
The time spent playing together is apparent when watching the Braves. Sandifer does a good job of feeling out the defense, using hesitation dribbles to dissect the opposition, finishing at the rim or kicking out to Mestre for the open jumper.
Both players credit the support system at Taconic in helping them succeed. Having to navigate the pressures and possible pitfalls of youth, while competing at a high level, could be enough for any teenager to crumble under the stress. However, the two are thriving, as are the other players on the team, leading to a 17-3 regular season.
"She's amazing," Sandifer said of his mother. "I wouldn't be here without her. She has my back in everything I do. I'm grateful for her."
"They're all there for us — all of them," added Mestre of all the mother's on the team.
As Taconic prepares for its most important game to date against rival Pittsfield on Friday, it's possible to think that the Braves have not yet reached their full potential. The team has only three seniors (Ringgold, Kyle Reardon and Abdiel Cotto), and with another year of added strength and practice, next year's team should certainly remain a force in Berkshire County.
For now however, the Braves' community is enjoying the accomplishments of the kids they spent years driving to various practices around town while watching them grow up before their eyes.
"I can't believe how quickly they grow up," Ricci said. "You cherish the moments and I'll be sad when they move on, but we'll always have some kind of game to go to."
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252