Basketball helps Pembroke star senior overcome anxiety; Spartans eye D-II title

  • Pembroke Academy senior Noah Cummings (right) battles for the ball against Hollis Brookline on Jan. 25 in Pembroke. Cummings is averaging 17.4 points per game for the 13-1, first-place Spartans.  GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Pembroke Academy senior Noah Cummings rises up for a shot against Hollis Brookline on Jan. 25 in Pembroke. Cummings is averaging 17.4 points per game for the 13-1, first-place Spartans. GEOFF FORESTER/ Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 2/14/2019 12:07:31 AM

Noah Cummings brings a lot to the basketball court. The Pembroke Academy senior point guard handles like a surgeon, creates for teammates, rebounds beyond his 6-foot-1 height, finishes around the rim and can drain jumpers all day.

In turn, basketball has given a lot to Cummings. The sport has helped him overcome significant anxiety issues. It’s taught him to care about others and the value of hard work. It’s comforted him and extended his family.

“Basketball has been really good to Noah, in all sorts of ways,” said Dave Cummings, Noah’s father.

It wasn’t so good at first. Yes, Noah is scoring a team-high 17.4 points per game for the 13-1, first-place Spartans. Yes, he was a First Team Division II pick last year and he’s only 30 points away from reaching 1,000 for his career. But when he was first introduced to the game, Cummings wanted to run the other way.

“I started in third grade and I hated it,” Cummings said. “I hated going to practices, I hated games, I couldn’t get far enough away from the ball, and I pretty much begged my parents to let me quit.”

His parents didn’t let him quit, and then Cummings met someone who flipped his basketball switch – Pat Welch, who won two titles and scored 1,907 points at Pembroke before graduating in 2014. Like Cummings, Welch is from Epsom, and the two met at Epsom Central School when Welch was in middle school and Cummings was just coming off that rocky third-grade hoops experience.

“Pat had this energy to him about the game that made me get interested in it,” Cummings said. “I thought, man, it would be pretty cool to be like that and have something you’re that good at and that people know you for. So, after I saw someone who was really good at it and started playing some more, I just fell in love with it.”

Soon after meeting Welch, Cummings met another person who fostered his basketball love – Frank Alosa. Welch played in Alosa’s Granite State Raiders program and Cummings wanted to follow in Welch’s footsteps, but given Cummings’s anxiety issues and Alosa’s reputation as a demanding coach, it seemed like a precarious mix.

“It was actually a joke at first because I was a real anxious kid so why would I go play for this program that’s notorious for being very tough, but ultra-successful. I just never thought I’d be in that category of player,” Cummings said. “But I joined, and it took off from there.”

While he was in elementary school, Cummings would call his parents five or six times a day because he was feeling anxious. He worried about getting sick and would be sent home often. But that nervous boy didn’t flinch when Alosa challenged him in practice.

“I know this sounds kind of cliché, but basketball became therapeutic for me,” Cummings said. “When I was in the gym, I never felt anxious, I never felt trapped in my own mind. So, it helped both things at once. I got better at basketball and my anxiety got better. It was the best situation possible.”

While Noah was diving into the sport, Dave was beginning a basketball project of his own. From Veterans Day 2009 to Veterans Day 2011, he shot 1,000,000 free throws and raised around $100,000 for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. He did most of his charity stripe work in his driveway or at the Epsom Central School, but he also travelled around the state and country shooting freebies to raise money.

Noah retrieved more than his fair share of the 1,000,000 free throws. He also learned his father’s lesson about giving to others, and he hopes this article is helping him put that lesson into practice. The main reason Noah spoke so openly about his anxiety was the thought that it might help others who are struggling with the same thing.

“Noah is a fantastic kid,” Pembroke coach Rich Otis said. “He’s the hardest working kid in practice, first one there, last one to leave, leads by example. I think he’s the epitome of a high school student-athlete. He’s just a great, great kid and anyone in the state would love to have him in their program.”

Otis wouldn’t have to go far to find that program. There’s a coach in neighboring Bow who would gladly take Cummings.

“Noah is my favorite player in D-II,” Bow coach Frank Moreno said. “And the reason I think so highly of him is not only because he’s so skilled and what he does on the floor, but he’s just a humble, classy kid. I’d love to have some of my kids get to that level and still be as humble as he is.”

The journey from hating the game to being on top of it has given Cummings an appreciation of the grind. He knows that hard work now yields results down the road. It’s an understanding of delayed gratification that’s rare among teenagers, and it’s served Cummings and the Spartans well over the last four years. The team went 0-17 three seasons ago and 8-11 the season after that, but last year Pembroke finished 16-5 and reached the D-II semifinals.

“We always expected to be good, even when we weren’t,” Cummings said. “We always kept that positive mindset and just kept working hard and fighting through adversity.”

When they got to last year’s semifinals, the Spartans got another dose of adversity, this one intensely bitter. Cummings hit a jumper with 2.2 seconds left to give PA a 48-46 lead, but Oyster River tied things with an inbound play from half court and a layup at the buzzer. The Spartans took a one-point lead with just seconds left in overtime, but they fouled Oyster River and lost the game on free throws.

It was an especially painful loss for Cummings. His grandfather, Jack Wormald, was a fixture at Pembroke games before he passed away on Dec. 21, 2017. So, Cummings dedicated last season to him and thought for sure the Spartans would win the D-II final, which was scheduled for St. Patrick’s Day, in a fitting tribute to his grandfather, who was a proud Irishman.

When the dream ending didn’t happen, Cummings needed extra time to cope. He did have help, and once again basketball provided it. The entire Pembroke team is tight knit, but there’s a special bond between seniors Sean Menard (who’s only 53 points away from 1,000 himself), Jack Lehoullier and Cummings. The three played in the Raiders program together and have been best friends throughout high school. And when Cummings needed them the most, they were there.

“We’ve been through it all together,” Cummings said. “That bad start to our careers, all the losses we took, them being there when my grandfather died. Every step of the way, we’ve all been in it together, so that’s why it’s going to make it extra sweet to win it with them this year, if we get that opportunity.”

If they don’t get that opportunity, Cummings won’t worry too much about it. Basketball has helped him take care of that, and so much more.

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20)




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