July 1, 2009

Camp for Hearing Impared in 30th year

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DECATUR, Ga. There is the noise of bouncing basketballs and the squeak of shoes on the wood floor, but there is a sound missing from the Monday night summer basketball game in the Decatur Recreation Center.

The oral hustle that goes with the summer game is not there. The trash talk, the "skills pay the bills and you're dead broke" kind of talk.

There are no screaming out-of-control coaches, either. The referee under the basket is waving his arms to stop play after a hard foul. He doesn't blow a whistle because it won't do any good here.

This is the Mike Glenn Camp for the Hearing Impaired, which is in its 30th year, and while the sounds are different, or not there at all, it is pure basketball, pure joy. It is fun and lively even without the trash talk.

"There was a time in this country when these kids would have been isolated and called deaf and dumb and not allowed to do something like this," said Glenn, whose father, Charles, coached the segregated black basketball team at the Georgia School for the Deaf from 1952-1970.

"This is mainstream."

Glenn started his camp in 1980 in Long Island, N.Y., when he played with the New York Knicks. He raises the money, about $25,000 to $30,000, to pay for food and travel for the players. The 2009 camp has 56 boys and 26 girls, all high school age.

Many of the campers play for their high school teams. Chris Carson, who will be a rising senior at McEachern High in suburban Atlanta, has a cochlear implant so he can hear his high school coach in huddles. Injured when he was 4, Carson wears a headband to protect the implant.

Cameron Gardner plays basketball for the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine, the school legendary singer Ray Charles attended. Asked with sign language from Glenn where he is from, Gardner holds his arms out, puts his palms together and does the "Gator Chomp." He is from Gainesville, home of the University of Florida Gators.

Gardner tells Glenn through sign language that he has been to the camp the past four years. He likes it because he can socialize with players from around the country and can work on his basketball skills.

There are some things that are hard for deaf players to overcome. Ball screens in the backcourt can make for brutal collisions because players can't hear a teammate warn them that a screen is being set.

The players here need a skills camp because they do not hear the analysis on TV or radio.

"Players can pick up tips from the television," said Glenn, who was an analyst for the Atlanta Hawks. "Here, we try and fine-tune and give players those tips they might not hear on TV."

The action is fierce underneath the basket and the uncontested layup is rare because there is no referee with a loud whistle to take control of the game.

"I grew up playing with deaf players; it's rough," Glenn said. "Now, you know why I learned to shoot from the outside. It's rough inside against these guys."

Once upon a time, Glenn was the best high school basketball player in Georgia. He played for Rome (Ga.) Coosa and graduated in 1973 with the school record for points in a career.

Glenn's streak of 30 consecutive camps is easier to understand when you look at his perfect attendance in school from elementary school through high school. He played at Southern Illinois and was named All-Missouri Valley before he was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the 23rd overall pick in the 1977 NBA draft.

Glenn, 53, does more than roll out the basketballs here. He has certified referees, such as Fred Stone, who is hearing impaired. One of his coaches and counselors is Rashaun Bryant, who just finished his career at Tennessee Tech.

Then there is Phil Merlino, who started working Glenn's camp in 1982. He works at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, and he does not simply substitute players into the game or frantically wave his arms to get players to play defense. Merlino calls plays from the sideline and teaches during timeouts.

"They can see from my facial expressions if I get upset with them about something," Merlino said.

Twelve minutes into the first game of the night, after watching one rushed shot after another, Merlino can't help himself any longer. The frustration boils over and he yells, "Pass the ball."

Of course, his eager shooters keep right on shooting. He holds his arms wide and smiles, which is the universal sign of, "They are teenage basketball players. What can you do?"

The players have varied skills. Some will play varsity basketball; others won't. But all have a love of the game.

"If Mike wanted to go out and recruit the very best talent to come to this camp, he could do it and we would have fabulous players," Merlino said. "But that's not what this is all about. This is about kids from other states meeting each other and traveling and having an opportunity."

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