Extraordinary Senior: Brian Merritt shoots for success
Commack High School senior Brian Merritt has "compassion and authenticity," logging countless hours mentoring kids in sports, including pediatric cancer patients at Sunrise Day Camp in Wyandanch. Credit: Johnny Milano
By Joe DziemianowiczSpecial to Newsday
This story is part of Newsday’s 2020 Extraordinary Seniors series showcasing 12 high school students from across Long Island with the vision and determination to transform their corners of the universe — and perhaps beyond. See more Extraordinary Seniors at newsday.com/extraordinaryseniors.
“Everybody has life issues,” said Commack High School senior Brian Merritt. “Everyone has stuff to deal with.”
Born with Harlequin ichthyosis, a severe genetic disorder resulting in thickened skin over nearly the entire body, the resilient 18-year-old speaks with authority.
He’s overcome the condition (“I don’t pay attention to it. I go about my day,” he said), and other serious medical issues, to become a star alongside players on Commack’s Unified Basketball Team, which joins students with and without intellectual disabilities.
“I’m a good shooter,” said Merritt, adding that another one of his talents is “bringing the team together and making everyone work as one.”
A b-ball court has been his happy place for more than a decade. “I find that it gets my mind off things,” he said, “and it brings people together.”
A backyard hoop at his home in Commack sports a C — a nod to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ championship season and LeBron James. “I admire LeBron’s game and team spirit,” Merritt said.
“Brian faced obstacles and found ways around them,” said Commack guidance counselor James J. Del Giudice, who counts “compassion and authenticity” among the teen’s defining characteristics. Merritt has put them to use logging countless hours mentoring kids in sports, including pediatric cancer patients at Sunrise Day Camp in Wyandanch.
“Brian is a people person,” said his mother, Denise Merritt, 52, a nurse. “He’s a good listener. He’s emotionally mature. He gets life.”
Merritt strives to take it all in stride. “It’s not always easy,” he said, “but it helps to be positive.”
HIGHER ED: Suffolk County Community College, studying business marketing graphic design.
FRESHMAN YEAR: “I’m looking forward to focusing on subjects that I really enjoy.”
DURING THE PANDEMIC, I LEARNED: “How important it is to care of your mental health and to concentrate on things that you like to do.”