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Mastering the assist – Peter Stivali helps lead LHS unified basketball team

LACONIA — In basketball, the assist doesn't get as much attention as the scoring shot that follows, or the defensive effort at the other end of the court. A great passer, though, one with the knack to deliver the ball to the right player at the right instant, can break down a defense and propel an offense. This year, playing the role of the on-court leader of the Laconia High School unified basketball team, senior Peter Stivali has learned to appreciate the art of the assist.
The LHS team is one of 24 in the NHIAA-sanctioned unified league, a league created to afford an interscholastic athletic opportunity for students who, due to a developmental disability, are unable to compete in varsity sports. The unified concept pairs these student-athletes with others who are referred to as "partner players," team mates from the regular education program. Laconia's unified basketball team is playing a six-game schedule this year and will conclude its regular season on Feb. 19 at Plymouth.
Stivali is a native Laconian who spent his first three high school years at Coe-Brown Academy in Northwood. He decided to transfer to LHS for his senior year, though, so he could graduate with his childhood friends. A multi-sport athlete, he played soccer in the fall, is on the LHS bowling team, and plans to play tennis in the spring.
Recently recognized as one of the high school's 14 students to receive the NHIAA's Scholar Athlete award, Stivali plans to attend a nursing school, perhaps Keene State College. He hopes to become a nurse anesthetist.
Stivali found out about the unified basketball team from its coach, Dave Levesque, who also coaches varsity soccer. Levesque has been impressed by his new unified basketball player. "He's been to every practice, he's been to every game. He's supportive, he cares for the team." And the team cares for him, said Levesque, adding that the other players look up to Stivali as if he was one of the team's coaches. "He's a coach on the floor, he's helping them to get to where they need to be."
In Stivali's eyes, his job is to carry the ball up the court and pass to whichever of his team mates is in position to shoot. By delivering a crisp assist, he's played a role in many baskets for the team, including the first basket scored by most of the team's players. His highlight of the season came in the first game, against Plymouth, when his pass resulted in a buzzer-beating basket that won the game for Laconia, a victory that brought joy to all on the team, partner players and all.
"They can put a smile on your face, even if you're having a bad day," said Stivali. He wishes his team mates got more respect and acceptance at school, and that more fans would come to their games. "I think people think they're incapable of doing things," he said. Those impressions are false, he added. "People underestimate them – some of these players are really good."

Peter Stivali, shown here with team mate "Ari" Johnstone, is a recent transfer to Laconia High School but quickly became a leader on the unified basketball team. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)
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