By Maureen Moroz '19
Dickinson College is an unequaled leader in global education, a first-in-its-class achiever for sustainability, a top producer of Fulbright students and scholars, home to a National Helmet Bowl title and an award-winning podcast. And this is just to name a few of superlatives.
Clearly, this prestigious liberal arts institution surpasses expectations.
But it was something else that inspired Justus Melton '18 to pursue a Dickinson education and a spot on the Dickinson men's basketball team – something much bigger than a list of awards and honors.
"The culture was great," Melton remembers. "I wasn't even looking at Division III schools until the end of my senior year, when I filled out the quick Dickinson recruit questionnaire online."
He got a call from head coach Alan Seretti within ten minutes.
"Coach Seretti was genuine with what he would say, and I could tell he cared about me –that was the type of coach I wanted," Melton said.
And the atmosphere of the team was no different. "The environment was caring, focused and hardworking," he noted. "It came from the top—the coaches, to the captains, to the rest of the team."
This claim soon became an undisputable fact during Melton's sophomore season. Emily, his 27-year-old sister, was diagnosed with leukemia.
Melton found out in the middle of an average day—class, lunch and then basketball. "I had practice twenty minutes after finding out from my parents that Emily had leukemia," Melton shared. " The first person I talked to, in tears, was Coach Seretti."
The coach sat with him for close to an hour, giving Melton his full attention even if practice would start much later because of it. "I still practiced that day though," Melton said. "Being with the team helped me process everything that happened."
Emily went through chemotherapy, and her cancer was soon in remission. Doctors feared the cancer would come back, so when she relapsed, she received a stem cell transplant in January 2016.
Melton was the donor.
"It was hard, because I had to travel back and forth to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she was hospitalized," Melton said. And this was all during the height of basketball season."
That season, the entire team shaved their heads in support of his sister. The players would also write handwritten notes to Emily throughout the year, personal notes of encouragement and hope. The program rallied around Emily, supporting her in the same way a genuine, caring team does for a teammate in need. She was their teammate.
Melton believes those letters and the games were her biggest source of entertainment. "She couldn't leave the hospital because her immune system was so low. Emily always watched our games—it was really all she could do."
The men's basketball team ended up winning twelve games in a row that season and qualifying for playoffs.
Today, after two relapses and another stem cell transplant from Germany, Emily is in remission.
Now, Melton is continuing his basketball career abroad in Ireland as a member of Neptune Basketball Club in Cork. Melton is competing as a Victory Scholar, and studying international business at the Cork Institute of Technology through the program Sport Changes Life. The organization employs scholars such as Melton to inspire disadvantaged youth through sports.
Melton heard about the program when the basketball team traveled to Ireland during the summer of 2017. Coach Seretti was the one who encouraged him apply for the position.
"We coach and mentor the youth in the community. I have also gotten the chance to share my experience of Emily and NCAA Division III basketball to the groups of children involved, and to travel to schools and speak in classrooms," Melton said. "A lot of the kids I talk to have parents with cancer or have lost them to it."
Melton's ultimate goal is to establish meaningful relationships with players—very much like the ones built through coaches and teammates at Dickinson.
Photos courtesy of Justus Melton