Basketball team presses on after loss of teammate

Danielle DePierro keeps Meghan McCarthy, who wore number 24, in her thoughts. Danielle DePierro keeps Meghan McCarthy, who wore number 24, in her thoughts. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Jason Mastrodonato
Globe Correspondent / February 14, 2010

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The girls on the Tewksbury basketball team have been playing with extra motivation this season, one they’ll never forget.

Following the recent loss of a friend and teammate, they’ve been forced to move on.

“It’s amazing the fight in some of the games that we shouldn’t be in,’’ said Mark Bradley, who’s in his first full year coaching the Tewksbury varsity. “They’re fighting and playing with the same type of intensity and same type of Tewksbury toughness that Meghan dealt with [through her illness] for 2 1/2 years. There’s so much determination in their eyes.’’

Meghan McCarthy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in June 2007, when she was 14. Still, she became an honor roll student and a three-sport athlete at Tewksbury Memorial High School.

But McCarthy was unable to play basketball this season, her senior year, because of her illness and the contact nature of the sport.

So when teammate and longtime friend Danielle DePierro was approaching the 1,000-point threshold for her career, she came up with a plan.

“I was sitting in my living room and I knew Meghan was sick,’’ said DePierro, a senior guard, “and it was hurting me pretty bad. So I thought, ‘I would love to wear her jersey to get 1,000 points.’ ’’

DePierro’s usual number is 22, but she decided to wear McCarthy’s number 24. McCarthy’s family embraced the idea, and DePierro hit the milestone on Jan. 12 in a losing effort against Lowell. McCarthy, though, was too sick to attend the game.

“I had a couple of tears in my eyes,’’ DePierro said of the ceremony that took place following her 1,000th point. “It was an honor to wear her jersey.’’

McCarthy died a week later, on Jan. 19, but not before she left a legacy that DePierro said will never be forgotten.

“Meghan was just a great person,’’ she said. “She had a smile on her face all the time . . . I’m honored to have been her friend.’’

McCarthy’s mother, Lee, was at the game where DePierro scored her 1,000th point.

“That meant so much to me,’’ DePierro said. “I talked to her and she was very happy.’’

Bradley coached McCarthy for four years through high school. He said he was impressed by DePierro’s decision to wear a different jersey in her own celebration, especially since there is only one other girl in program history to reach that mark.

“On Danny’s special night, to wear somebody else’s number, that’s touched so many people in this town,’’ he said. “We knew Meghan’s condition was getting worse and it was very nice that [Danielle] would go out and think of her friend first. I thought it was an unbelievable idea.’’

McCarthy’s jersey has been with the team since her passing. Bradley brings it to practices, and rests it over a chair during the team’s games.

Throughout the gym, signs are posted that read ‘Meg is the Miracle,’ and ‘Tewksbury 24 Tough.’ The number 24 is all over the walls, with the color pink (for cancer) drenched among the stands.

The Lady Redmen also wear pink warm-up shirts with McCarthy’s number. When they played Lawrence Tuesday night, the Lancers brought their own pink shirts, with MEG printed across the back.

Bradley said he believes McCarthy has inspired every player on the team.

“She’s in our hearts and still part of our team,’’ he said. “I have a bunch of athletes that are playing with a lot of heart and a lot of passion for their friend Meg.’’

Though McCarthy was fighting her own battle, she spent a lot of time volunteering to help others. She raised money for the Rally Against Cancer and the Jimmy Fund, and also teamed up with DePierro to help out with Little Reds, a program that teaches basketball to special needs children in Tewksbury and surrounding communities.

“Meghan touched a lot of people’s lives that weren’t even associated with Tewksbury High School,’’ Bradley said.

“I give her so much credit to face that type of adversity. And to be so positive and to keep fighting a good fight, you learn a lot from her. She’s a very touching girl.’’

Bradley said McCarthy was always positive and never felt badly for herself.

“She wanted to retain a regular high school curriculum,’’ he said. “She didn’t want any type of advantages; that’s how she was. She was determined to play basketball and to play field hockey and there was nothing that was going to stop her. That’s what she wanted and how she wanted her life to be.’’

Tewksbury clinched the Merrimack Valley Small League title with a 58-40 win over Lawrence, and at 11-7 the team has earned a berth in the Division 2 state tournament.

“We’re just going to keep moving up and keep playing hard,’’ DePierro said. “When we get going, it’s like something that clicks. Something just hits us and we just start going and playing well.’’

It might be the inspiration that Meghan McCarthy had forever left in the hearts of her Tewksbury teammates.

Like mother, like daughter
Chelsea Rafferty became the third player in the history of the Lowell Catholic girls’ basketball program to reach 1,000 points with an 18-point performance in Sunday’s 52-37 victory over Matignon.

Rafferty now joins her mother, Donna (Cavanaugh) Rafferty, who was a 1,000-point scorer in high school at Presentation of Mary Academy in Hudson, N.H., graduating in 1984.

She was later a scholarship athlete at the University of Hawaii.

A senior, Rafferty has averaged 18 points and 13 rebounds per game this season. She was the Catholic Central Conference MVP last season.

“She’s played even better this year,’’ said her coach, Tom Varnon. “She has great low-post moves and she’s really tough underneath the basket.’’

Jann tops 1,000 at Westford
T.J. Jann became the fourth boys’ player in Westford Academy history to score 1,000 points last week, reaching the milestone in a 66-58 defeat to Acton-Boxborough.

A senior captain for the Grey Ghosts, Jann became the first player to hit the 1,000-point mark without playing varsity his freshman year.

He was named a Dual County co-MVP in the large school division last season as a wing player, but has since taken on different responsibilities.

“He’s a really solid player,’’ said coach Ed Scollan. “He’s had an outstanding season. He’s playing center for us this year and he’s filled that role nicely. He’s very athletic, very talented, and he’s done a solid job for us.’’

The Grey Ghosts are 13-6 and have clinched a spot in the Division 1 state tournament.

Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at