Ailing Leominster teen gets precious slam-dunk
LEOMINSTER, Mass. (AP) — Joey and Sean Mullaney played one last game of basketball together before heading off to college in the fall. It was a game most people thought would never happen because Joey suffers from the hereditary disease Freidreich’s ataxia, which attacks the nervous system.
But it did happen and the game between Lawrence Academy and Buckingham Browne & Nichols has become a YouTube sensation, with more than 83,700 views and counting since being posted on Feb. 23.
Even the “Good Morning America” television show featured the video.
“It’s fabulous,” said their mother, Brenda Mullaney. “I just think it was the kindest, most compassionate thing this team could do for him.”
The 18-year-old fraternal twins grew up loving and playing sports together, but in middle school, Joey was diagnosed with Freidreich’s ataxia.
When they reached Lawrence Academy, a private high school in Groton, Sean was a multisport star, but Joey couldn’t play any sports.
Of Brenda and David Mullaney’s four children, Joey and his sister, Kaela, 23, have Freidreich’s ataxia. Sean and brother Ryan, 24, do not.
So Joey spent four years as the manager of the basketball team, of which Sean was named co-captain this season.
Feb. 23 was Seniors Day, and coach Kevin Wiercinski worked with assistant Kevin Sullivan on a plan to get Joey back on the court.
Joey had one condition when asked if he wanted to go along with the idea, Wiercinski said.
“I asked what it was and he said, ‘I have to dunk it,’” Wiercinski said.
That wasn’t a surprising request, Sean said.
“That’s Joey’s personality,” Sean said. “He has to go out with a bang.”
The coaches at Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge and the referees agreed to go along with the plan.
“My coach dreamed up the play,” Joey said.
Darrien Myers took the tip-off to start the game and passed to Jalen Myrie while Daquan Sampson and Sean ran under the basket with Joey who donned No. 22 for the game.
Myrie passed the ball to Sean while Joey climbed on the 6-foot-7-inch Sampson’s shoulders for the dunk.
For good measure, Joey did a chin-up on the rim after dunking — while wearing Superman socks.
“That was just me having fun, adding an exclamation to the dunk,” Joey said.
The team then played soft defense so BB&N could even the score, and Joey left the game with Sean.
Sean hurt his ankle about two weeks ago and wasn’t healthy enough to play, so he left the court with his brother.
It was a special moment for Sean, who had to come to terms with going through his entire high-school career without suiting up next to his twin.
“It was surreal,” Sean said.
David Mullaney was careful not to interfere with his son’s special moment and chose his words carefully.
“It was an incredible act of human kindness on the part of coach Kevin Wiercinski and coach Kevin Sullivan and, accordingly, Lawrence Academy,” David Mullaney said.
The video is available on YouTube. Type in “Joey Dunks to Start the Game.”