By Sue Wambolt, Contributing Writer
Northborough – For Kevin Merchant, the passion for basketball began at an early age. Living across the street from Proctor School in a neighborhood flooded with children, Kevin spent countless hours on the school courts honing his skills. As a teenager in the late “70s, Kevin played guard at Algonquin Regional High School (ARHS). In 2001, his accomplishments on the court were applauded and he was elected to the ARHS Athletic Hall of Fame.
After ARHS, Kevin attended Babson College, where he met and fell in love with fellow basketball player Naomi Carey. They married in 1985.
In 1994 the Merchants welcomed their only child, daughter Sarah.
“It is kind of a cute little love story,” said Sarah. “Two basketball lovers met, fell in love and created another basketball lover.”
Like her father, Sarah began playing basketball at an early age. And, like her father, Sarah developed a fervor for the game – a devotion to the sport that would knit them together.
But unlike her father, young Sarah did not have basketball courts across the street to offer her unlimited access to the game.
“Unfortunately, in today's society, you cannot just send a child to a park to play. I always had Proctor School, and I felt that Sarah deserved the same opportunity,” Kevin said. “So, we built a basketball court in our back yard so she could play anytime.”
The basketball court offered a unique opportunity for Kevin and Sarah's relationship to grow and flourish.
“Sharing a love for basketball has been a huge blessing,” Kevin said. “It has meant so much to our relationship. Because I understand the game, I can appreciate how much she has grown and improved over the years.”
For Sarah, the relationship she shares with her father extends far beyond the court.
“I would say that I am definitely a classic daddy's girl – not a very girly one, however. I was always the one wanting to go outside and play catch, ride my bike or shoot some hoops. My dad was always right there, constantly teaching me. I have always looked up to him. He has been such an inspiration and I am so proud to call him my dad,” said Sarah. “He has been my number-one fan, role model, best friend, and greatest dad I could ever ask for. He means the world to me, and our shared love for this sport is just the cherry on top.”
At 6″1,” Sarah plays center for the ARHS Tomahawks (the big girl down low). She credits her father for encouraging her and keeping her focused.
“My dad has always been my number-one cheerleader. Whether I have a great game or a rough night, my dad is the one I look to for advice – to help me mentally get back on the right track. He taught me everything I know during all those long nights playing hoops,” she said.
After nine knee surgeries, Kevin spends far less time on the court shooting hoops than he would like. These days, he said, trips out to the backyard court with Sarah are mostly opportunities for conversation and reflection. He treasures these times, sharing their love for basketball and pondering the ways that basketball is like life.
“I can honestly say there are no words to describe how important my dad is to me. He is the greatest man on this planet,” Sarah said. “He has always inspired me to be the best player I can be and encouraged me to shoot for the stars.”
Sarah is looking forward to playing basketball this fall at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. where she is a rising freshman.
She plans to shoot for the stars.