CHICOPEE, Mass. -- A Mount Greylock graduate and mother of star athletes for the Mounties, Liza Barrett knows a thing or two about Berkshire County sports rivalries.
And over the years, she has seen any number of tussles between Mount Greylock and Wahconah.
On Thursday afternoon, the two schools were on the basketball court once more -- this time, to each be honored with MIAA Sportsmanship Awards.
Barrett, the first-year coach of the Mounties’ Unified Basketball team, explained that the sport has created a bond between the two schools.
“We used to just see other schools as rivals,” Barrett said. “Now, when they come in the gym to have a game or we come to the jamboree with all these schools, I look over at Wahconah, and instead of thinking, ‘There’s our rival.’ I think, ‘There’s our friends.’
“Our kids talk to each other a little bit. And it just feels a little different. It feels like we’re all in it together.”
The Mount Greylock and Wahconah teams -- two of 80 across the commonwealth -- are two of just five singled out for sportsmanship awards this season.
They were recognized Thursday at Chicopee Comp during opening ceremonies for the season-ending Western Mass Unified Basketball Jamboree.
Teams from Agawam, Chicopee, Holyoke, Monson, Northampton and Palmer joined Mount Greylock and Wahconah at the event, where each squad played two 30-minute contests.
The two Berkshire County programs were recognized in front of their peers and later met up in the school’s auditorium for a group photo.
“I just think that it’s such a great program, and to be recognized -- to stand out among the rest -- is quite an honor,” Wahconah coach Dustin Belcher said. “It’s really a community thing. It goes to our administration, our community supporting it. And then the student-athletes who participate.
“It’s a great honor for the entire community.”
Unified Sports, an initiative of Special Olympics, allows students with developmental disabilities to compete alongside their typically developing peers. Wahconah fields Unified teams in the fall (basketball) and spring (track and field). Last year, Mount Greylock started a Unified Basketball team and Hoosac Valley began offering Unified Track.
“It’s a partnership,” Belcher said of the relationship between the two schools. “I think it’s great for Berkshire County. It’s a great way to show what we’re all about. … I think both of us have a similar perspective as to what the goals and objectives are.
“So to have us both be recognized in the same year is really special.”
Barrett called the Unified experience “magical.”
“Somehow, Unified has figured out how to have the kids feel competitive and like they’re in it together,” she said. “This program has found a way to combine both those things. You feel like you’re on a competitive team, and everyone is cheering and scoring and, of course, trying to win. But you still feel like you’re in it with them, and you’re happy for the other team.
“When we lost to Wahconah in overtime, we had beaten them twice before, and I had a player come up and say to me, ‘That’s exciting for Wahconah.’
“But I’m not saying it’s not competitive.”
And both squads showed their competitive spirit on Thursday.
In the day’s first of two games, Mount Greylock found itself down, 12-8, early in the second half against Palmer.
Moments later, Aidan Barnes scored in the post to start the Mounties on a 12-0 run to take the lead for good.
Jamieson Sanborn scored twice in that run, which ended with a Barnes bucket from the wing to make it 24-16, Mounties.
Mount Greylock went on to a 26-23 win.
In Wahconah’s second game, Belcher’s team was in a 14-4 hole early but rallied back to tie it, 16-16, at half. After Palmer took a lead late in the second half, Tony Marra scored in transition to tie it, 28-28, and scored in transition again to give Wahconah a 30-28 lead.
Palmer sank a basket with 10 seconds left to escape with a 30-30 tie. Unlike the regular-season meetings between Mount Greylock and Wahconah, there was no overtime to settle the issue.
The excitement generated by those OT games is something that Barrett would like to see replicated throughout the county.
“The fact that two [of the five statewide awards] are in Berkshire County tells you that something special is happening out here,” she said. “We really hope to increase it.
“On the bus ride to this jamboree, we had two students come up to coach [Karen] Ducharme and I, and ask if they could go to the other schools in Berkshire County to try to convince them to have a team. … I said, ‘Maybe our athletic director and a coach could go.’ And they said it would be better coming from them.
“That’s pretty cool.”