one of the borough’s most esteemed orthopedic surgeons has another calling: hosting a diverse youth sports clinic
by Jessica Jones-Gorman • Photos By Robert Nuzzie
Years ago, when Mark Sherman’s son was playing basketball for Staten Island’s Susan E. Wagner High School, he noticed a division.
“On the court, these kids worked great together—they really jelled as a team,” Sherman said. “But when I would pick him up from practice, I noticed all of the white kids would stand on one side of the street and all of the black kids would stand on the other. They were teammates, but they weren’t friends. Despite all of the time they spent together, they hardly knew each other.”
So, Sherman had an idea. Why not create an environment where kids could bond regardless of differences? He also knew how he would be able to unite them.
“For my son and his friends, basketball was the common denominator,” Sherman said. “These kids had nothing else in common, just the game. So why not bring a bunch of kids together, all from different backgrounds, and unite them in a sport they all love?”
Sherman, a renowned orthopedic surgeon who also played college ball, teamed up with Jacob Carey, a surgical technologist who had played professional basketball overseas, and started to brainstorm. Within a few months, they’d scheduled a scrimmage event.
“Jacob was from the North Shore, I was mid-Island, so we got together and coached some games with different teams,” Sherman said. “We integrated each team, mixing together players who would have never become teammates on their own, and saw instant results. These kids were instantly laughing and talking. They formed friendships almost effortlessly.”
Sherman and Carey decided to make the event an annual happening. They named it the Unity Games and grew the program a little more each season. One year they printed T-shirts, they next they added lunch. Fifteen years later, it has grown from 150 participants to 400. And what was once a one-time, two-hour scrimmage is now a two-day event, where players are invited for breakfast and lunch, as well as for workshops addressing internet safety, bullying, gang and drug awareness, cultural diversity, and overcoming life’s obstacles, all for free.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind experience,” Sherman said, adding that the Games have received coverage in such publications as Sports Illustrated and the New York Times.
“This is not just a basketball event,” Sherman said. “The Unity Games foster long-lasting relationships and teach life lessons. It’s really amazing what happens after two days. The kids might start out a little timid, afraid to mingle with those they don’t know. But at our graduation ceremony, there is a rainbow of 36 different teams wearing the same colored shirt, representing their commonality. An annual banner with each child’s signature is presented as another symbol of unity.”
For Sherman, that concept of sportsmanship was inspired by his father. “My father, Ben Sherman, was a legend in the Public School Athletic League,” Sherman said. “He was a great sports doc, but more importantly he was a great humanitarian. He was on the sidelines at virtually every Lafayette High School football game, caring for injured athletes throughout the entire span of his career. And he served as an inspiration to those kids, encouraging them to shake hands at the end of every game, win or lose.”
That’s why Sherman followed in his footsteps and became a physician—one of the first to perform arthroscopy of the knee and shoulder (a procedure for diagnosing and treating jointproblems in which a surgeon inserts a narrow tube attached to a fiber-optic video camera through a small incision and then transmits the view inside the joint to a high-definition video monitor). He is now the director of orthopedic surgery at Richmond University Medical Center and an associate attending at the Hospital for Special Surgery. He attended Brooklyn College and then New York University School of Medicine, and completed a fellowship at the Hospital for Special Surgery with Dr. John Marshall, physician for the New York Giants and the U.S. Olympic Ski Team.
“He worked with Billy Jean King and Dr. J,” Sherman said of Marshall. “He was truly the best sports doctor around. I am blessed to have been a part of that.”
When Marshall died in a plane crash flying into Lake Placid for the 1980 Winter Olympics, Sherman completed his fellowship with Dr. Russell Warren. “Together, we brought the [arthroscopy] procedure to Staten Island the following year,” he said. “It was a big transition for sports medicine in general.”
Sherman went into private practice shortly thereafter and has served Staten Island residents for the past 37 years. He’s worked with his partner, Dr. Joel Bonamo, for the entirety of that time, with partner Dr. Maryirene Flynn for 25 years.
“The greatest thing about sports medicine is that you’re dealing with motivated, healthy people who are anxious to get back to where they were before,” Sherman said. “As doctors, we are tasked with helping them return to activity, not faced with illness and death. It’s a different type of pressure that is a little easier on the soul.”
Sherman continued in his father’s footsteps, and for the past 35 years has served as an official consultant for the Public School Athletic League, helping young athletes recover from injury free of charge. And now, together with Carey, he continues to grow the Unity Games each year.
“Our ultimate goal is to host the Unity Games in various cities throughout the country,” he said. “I think there’s really a need for this in today’s society, and if we can spread our message even further, we can benefit even more families.”
The Unity Games are completely funded by private donations and everything—including breakfast, lunch, and transportation—is free for participants. Petrides and Wagner High Schools have served as venues for the games, and various Staten Island JCCs, YMCAs, and the CYO have been involved as well.
Sherman lives on Staten Island and has three children, all graduates of Susan E. Wagner High School: Seth is a prominent sports medicine surgeon at the University of Missouri, Nicole is a public school special education teacher in New York City, and Sean is an attorney in Washington, D.C. He has three grandchildren.
“I’ve accomplished a lot in my career, but I think the Unity Games are what I’m most proud of,” Sherman concluded. “Eight thousand arthroscopies and research papers on the repair of the anterior cruciate ligament cannot compare to the smiles on those kids’ faces. They will undoubtedly stay with me forever.”
The Unity Games
2052 Richmond Road / 917.640.7593 / www.theunitygames.com