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June 25, 2004

OHS coach part of hockey program that helps deaf players

From: Onalaska Life - Onalaska,WI,USA - Jun 25, 2004

By CRAIG OTTO/Staff writer

When Tim Ebner was officially hired as Onalaska High School's head hockey coach June 14, he was already on the ice. Not as a part of the new week of summer contact allowed to coaches by the WIAA, but as part of a program that conducts a week-long hockey camp each summer for deaf athletes.

The American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association (AHIHA) is the organization directing the camp, but the Stan Mikita Hockey School for the Hearing Impaired is the brainchild of the former Chicago Blackhawk and National Hockey League Hall of Famer. In additon to the camp, AHIHA is the primary supplier of players for the U.S. Deaflympics Hockey Team, which won the bronze medal at last winter's games in Sweden. The Deaflympics team also won the gold medal in 1995 and the silver medal in 1991 and 1999.

Ebner is in his second year with the program. His official title is as the equipment manager, but he is also involved in scouting opponents and working with goalies.

Ebner was part of the program a year ago, as well, helping with the Deaflympics training camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. The team played in some of the same venues as the 1980 Olympic team.

"When I first got there, it was like I'd been with them for years," Ebner said. "It's a good program and it's a lot of fun. I've met several good coaches and have learned more about the game."

Ebner became aware of the program though former longtime University of Wisconsin head coach Jeff Sauer, who was also the Deaflympics USA head coach in 2003 and has been involved with the program nearly since its inception. Ebner was a video coordinator/administrative assistant at Madison from 1991 to 1996.

"They needed someone to go last year and Jeff just asked me to go," Ebner said of how he got involved in the program. "It's been a phenomenal experience and one of the nicest groups of people I've ever been around. It starts with Stan Mikita and works all the way down. It's truly like a family. There's some kids that have been here since they've been learning how to skate."

Ebner said the hearing ability of the skaters varies. Some can hear slightly and need implants, while others are totally deaf.

Interpreters are on the ice at all times in the camp. Players wear letters on their helmets to indicate whether they are conversant in lip reading (L) or sign language (S).

"I've considered learning sign language because of this," Ebner said.

The camps include skaters ranging in age from six to the mid- to late-20s. About 100 players and 25 staff members are part of the camp. The staff includes coaches, trainers and interpreters, among others.

Ebner said the level of play on what will comprise the 2007 Deaflympics team is plenty high, too, comparable to the upper levels of NCAA Division 3. Team USA's third goalie from last season is playing at Saint Mary's University in Winona, while the club's likely 2007 Deaflympics goalie is attending Princeton.

"There's players here I'd love to have and I wouldn't blink an eye," Ebner said. "I'm going to continue doing this as long as I can."

The camp began in 1973 when a Chicago businessman asked Mikita for help in launching the school. The camp has been conducted in the Chicago area for all 31 years, with this year's camp conducted in Woodbridge, Ill.

All stories copyright 2000, 2001, 2002 Onalaska Community Life and other attributed sources.