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June 12, 2004

A basketball star quietly gets his due

From: Buffalo News - Buffalo,NY,USA - Jun 12, 2004

News Sports Reporter

Amid the Jim Kellys, O.J. Simpsons and Pat LaFontaines - past inductees into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame - Kevin Milligan may not be a familiar name.

He didn't lead the Buffalo Bills to four AFC titles and four Super Bowl appearances like Kelly. He wasn't the first NFL player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season like Simpson. Neither was he a five-time NHL All-Star like LaFontaine. But Milligan is making his own mark in a big way, by being the first deaf person to be named to the Buffalo Hall.

Milligan, who was announced as a 2004 inductee on Thursday, enters as one of Western New York's greatest basketball players - a legend at St. Mary's School for the Deaf, where he attended high school, and at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

Milligan said he was surprised that anyone would remember what he had done 50 years ago.

"Thank you for remembering," Milligan said through his interpreter, St. Mary's Athletics Director Lou Pennella.

At St. Mary's, Milligan played basketball and ran cross country. At Gallaudet, he participated in basketball, cross country, soccer and baseball.

But while he played many sports, Milligan was first and foremost a basketball player. In 1954 and '55, he led St. Mary's to back-to-back Eastern Schools for the Deaf Athletic Association championships. Those same years, he was named a Monsignor Martin Athletic Association All-Catholic selection.

It was in 1955, his senior year, that Milligan helped St. Mary's to the best record in school history - 22-2. His team beat St. Joe's, St. Francis and Canisius, and he was picked as a Catholic High School Basketball All-American.

That was only the beginning.

At Gallaudet, Milligan racked up 1,681 career points, once scoring 47 in a game.

He was a two-time Mason-Dixon All-Conference selection. He has been inducted into the Gallaudet Hall of Fame and his jersey, No. 24, has also been retired.

"If you look at his record, he was an outstanding high school athlete," said Warren Gelman, president of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. "He went to St. Mary's and was a great college athlete. He deserves to be nominated to the Hall of Fame. His achievements over the years happen to make him a really deserving candidate."

Beyond scholastic and collegiate endeavors, Milligan led the U.S. basketball team to a gold medal in the 1961 International Games for the Deaf in Finland.

He also played on two American Athletic Association for the Deaf basketball championship teams. He was later inducted into the association's Hall of Fame, the highest honor for deaf athletics.

In 1975, he led the United States to a gold medal in the Pan American Games for the Deaf, held in Venezuela.

Much has changed since Milligan was a part of the deaf sports scene. The International Games for the Deaf is now the US Deaflympics and the American Athletic Association for the Deaf has been renamed the USA Deaf Sports Federation. What hasn't changed, though, is that the Buffalo athletics community hasn't forgotten.

Milligan, now 68, doesn't have to stop and think when asked what the highlight of his athletics career has been. Standing at the Buffalo Hall of Fame display in HSBC Arena, he motions to his surroundings, the people there and the glass showcases filled with sports mementos.

It doesn't take an understanding of sign language to know that Milligan is referring to the honor of being a part of the Hall.

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