Malden Public Schools Athletic Director Conefrey founded program at MHS; Malden Disability Commission and city recognized his achievements recently
He is an attendee at literally hundreds of games and practices in any given school year, as part of his duties overseeing nearly 800 student-athletes who compete in the expansive Malden Public Schools athletic program. From the littlest “Future Tornado” five-year-old who attends one of the many instructional camps hosted by Malden Public Schools and Malden Recreation in the summer, to the well-experienced, college-bound star in their senior year of high school, Charlie Conefrey oversees them all.
But if there’s one sight that always brings a smile to his face – every time – it is when he is at a Unified Sports event. “I tell everyone: It is absolutely my favorite time of year, when we are having Unified Sports games,” Conefrey, who is in his eighth year serving as Director of Wellness, Physical Education and Athletics, told the Advocate. “It is as pure a sporting event as it can possibly be for an athlete.”
Conefrey was appointed to his Athletic Director’s position just before the 2016-17 school year. It was then that he introduced the first Unified Sports program to Malden Public Schools. Unified Sports matches up students who are physically challenged, intellectually challenged – or both – with students who volunteer to work with the challenged student-athletes at practices and games in various sports. Some school districts with Unified Sports have competition in one sport for their program. A number of them – including Malden Public Schools – have multiple sports and seasons for their programs, making it basically a year-round proposition.
Malden Public Schools Unified Sports recently received two major honors – one at a national level. U.S. Special Olympics recognized Malden High School as a 2022 National Banner Unified Champion School, based on a specific, 10-standard review. Also recently, Charlie Conefrey was honored locally – with a citation from the City of Malden and the Malden Disability Commission – for the continual promotion and support of inclusivity and equity for all student participants in the Unified Sports program.
Among those in attendance at the brief ceremony and presentation were Malden Mayor and School Committee Chairperson Gary Christenson, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ligia Noriega-Murphy, Disability Commission Member, ADA Compliance Officer and Special Assistant to the Mayor Maria Luise and Ward 5 School Committee Member Adam Weldai.
Some officers of the Disability Commission, including Vice Chair Amanda Belles and Secretary/Clerk Nichole Mossalam, were effusive in their praise and thanks for Conefrey and the Malden Public Schools for their sponsorship of the Unified Sports program. “We are all very touched by all the work you have done with the inclusion of so many students in this program,” Disability Commission Chairperson Marilyn Andrews said at the recent meeting.
“From the bottom of our hearts the Malden community thanks you for your efforts in creating unity and making our community stronger,” Mayor Christenson said before reading an official municipal citation about Conefrey’s contributions. “Inclusion is so important for students of all ages and abilities and your work in establishing and growing this program has been exemplary.”
“We have gone ‘all in’ with Unified Sports,” said Conefrey. “We started with co-ed basketball, then we added track and field.”
“Also, this year we are hosting a rivalry game in Flag Football for our Unified Sports Program, where we will take on Medford Public Schools in conjunction with the 135th Malden-Medford Thanksgiving Game,” added Conefrey.
That Unified Flag Football game was scheduled to be played Wednesday of this week, weather permitting. This year’s Thanksgiving game is being played at historic Fenway Park next Tuesday night, November 22, with a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Malden Public Schools recently hosted an eight-team, regional jamboree at the Sam Fishman Memorial Fieldhouse at the Salemwood K-8 School. Conefrey reported it was a big success, with over 100 players and 40-45 volunteer students and coaches on hand. (See separate story, photos in this edition.)
“There is a lot of publicity around youth and high school sports lately about overbearing parents and unruly fans, but there is none of that in the Unified Sports programs,” Conefrey said. “There’s plenty of competitiveness and a lot of sportsmanship, with players on one team actually stopping to help other players on the opposing team have fun and succeed.”
“It can be very inspirational at times,” Conefrey attested. “We are just so pleased we can help make these Unified Sports student-athletes learn some of the same life lessons as our traditional students.”
“If we can help our most vulnerable students and their caregivers [be] a little happier through their participation in Unified Sports, then it is all worth every bit of effort that we invest,” Conefrey said.