Many people celebrated when the Oliver Ames High School girls won the Division 2 state basketball championship. But few were as thrilled as 4-foot, 6-inch Erin Maloney, the team’s water girl for the past two seasons. Maloney, who is 17 and has Down syndrome, was hoisted high into the air in the arms of her coaches after the victories.
Many people celebrated when the Oliver Ames High School girls won the Division 2 state basketball championship. But few were as thrilled as 4-foot, 6-inch Erin Maloney, the team’s water girl for the past two seasons.
Maloney, who is 17 and has Down syndrome, was hoisted high into the air in the arms of her coaches as the Oliver Ames team celebrated its playoff victories at the TD Garden in Boston and again at the DCU Center in Worcester.
“Between her and the coaches, if you look at the pictures, you’ll see they had the biggest smiles on their faces,” said Erin’s mother, Rose Maloney.
Throughout the basketball season and into the playoffs, it was Erin Maloney’s job to stand by the water container and keep enough cups filled to satisfy thirsty players. The role gave her a courtside view and she thoroughly, and very vocally, enjoyed it, according to her mother.
“She gets into the games,” Rose Maloney said. “She will yell at the referees and anyone who is doing anything wrong. She is a typical sports fan who thinks she knows what’s best for the team ... She knows every rule to every sport and every player and their injuries.”
Erin understands the game, said Elaine Clement-Holbrook, the girls basketball coach at Oliver Ames for 35 years.
“She really appreciates how the players have included her in this championship,” the coach said. “She told us the other day that ‘we better win.’ It was the time of her life.”
Erin Maloney lives in Easton with her mother, who is 47 and works in Internet sales; her father Bob, 49, a controller, and her brother Sean, 20, a 2008 graduate of Oliver Ames who is studying theater and pre-medicine at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
An athlete in her own right, Erin Maloney plays basketball and baseball for the Challenger League of the Downey Memorial Little League in Brockton, bowls every Saturday at Westgate Lanes and plays softball for the Special Olympics.
“If she could do it all, she would,” Rose Maloney said.
Peggy Wentworth, Erin’s teacher in the Project Opportunity program for special needs students at Oliver Ames, said her student asked a couple of years ago if she could join the girls basketball team.
Wentworth approached coach Holbrook, who “didn’t hesitate to work toward a way to include Erin,” said Wentworth. “The girls welcomed her as one of the group and it has been a very positive experience for her.”
The graduation of the team’s then-water girl allowed Erin Maloney to join the team in that role.
On the team, Erin Maloney had her favorites.
“I like my coach,” she said. “I knew LB” – senior forward Lauren Battista – “for giving hugs. And Tessa” Dern.
Battista and Dern made it a point to hug Erin Maloney at each game, Rose Maloney said.
Wentworth, who has taught Erin Maloney for seven years, said she can be shy at first, but “once she’s comfortable, Erin is gregarious, talkative and has a terrific sense of humor.”
Her favorite subject in school is sewing and she enjoys watching TV and playing video games.
Wentworth noted Erin Maloney’s talent for keeping track of the players and statistics of professional and college football, basketball, baseball and hockey teams.
Erin Maloney will graduate from Oliver Ames in June, but she has the option to return in September for four years of life skills and vocational training under Project Opportunity.
She might even try to become water girl for the girls volleyball team.