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January 25, 2005

A Golden Opportunity

From: Westerly Sun - Westerly,RI,USA - Jan 25, 2005

By Owen Poole - The Sun Staff

WESTERLY - Imagine yourself as a lifelong basketball junkie. Imagine yourself as an eighth-grader at Babcock, or any other middle school, trying out for the team.

Imagine yourself as the leading scorer on your high school team, first-team All-Division and second-team All-Class selection as a senior. Imagine yourself as a 6-foot, 4-inch, physically imposing player. Imagine yourself as a gold-medal winner.

Now, imagine you're 65-percent deaf.

Welcome to Ben DeMario's world.

DeMario, a 1996 Westerly High graduate, recently returned to the town where he was born and raised with a gold medal around his neck after he represented the United States at the 20th Deaflympics in Melbourne, Australia.

The Deaflympics featured 173 Americans who competed in 12 sports. Over 80 countries sent athletes to the games, which mirror the Olympics in types of events, intensity and spirit.

The 27-year old played high school ball for the Bulldogs, averaging 14 points and almost 11 rebounds per game as a senior. He played for a year at CCRI before being recruited to play at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the only university in the world designed exclusively for deaf and hard of hearing students.

DeMario was a three-year starter for the Bison, playing center and power forward at the Division III school. He acknowledged the team struggled against most teams, but it was at Gallaudet that DeMario realized what a strong society there was for deaf people.

"Before that, I had no knowledge of the deaf community," DeMario said.

Welcome to Ben DeMario's world.

DeMario was born with his affliction, something he said he got from his mother. It also affects his brother and sister. He is adept at lip-reading, something he jokingly said he has been doing "since I popped out of my mother."

He has never had much trouble communicating with coaches or any players he has played with who have full hearing.

"It's just a matter of me telling them what I needed," DeMario said. "Once they understood that, it was fine. It doesn't matter. Once I'm on the court, it's all the same."

One of the main reasons DeMario got involved with the USA Deaf Sports Federation (USADSF) was to travel the world and meet others who share his impairment.

"A big part of it was being able to travel," DeMario said. "And being able to play with a higher level of talent. Everything's different. Everything's catered to the deaf community. It's pretty cool, just seeing the world. The best part is just travelling with all of those deaf people. I get to meet tons of people from all over. It's a great thing for them to see what equal rights is."

A popular perception of those who suffer with hearing and sight problems is that, because of a lack in one sense, other senses are heightened. DeMario says that is true, though it doesn't help much when everyone on the court is deaf.

"I may notice things more with my eyes," DeMario said. "I'm more aware of things. I can feel vibrations on the floor. But, at that level, you know what's going on and you feed off your teammates."

He was a member of the Deaf World Championship team in Athens, Greece a year ago, and has played with several Division I players.

Jamel Bradley, who played at South Carolina, was on the Deaflympics team, and Weber State's Lance Allred was his roommate in Athens.

DeMario noted that there are other deaf Division I players, such as Providence's Dwight Brewington, who can't play for the USADSF because of the rigors of big-time college basketball.

He will play for the Maryland team in the Deaf Club National Tournament for the fourth time, beginning in a few weeks, with an eye towards making the National Championship Tournament in Las Vegas in April.

DeMario, who recently received his teaching certificate from Eastern Connecticut State, has also just finished student-teaching at Norwich Tech.

He said he will try to do some long-term substitute work to get some experience teaching.

"Hopefully, by June I'll find something," DeMario said.

Along with playing for the Deaflympic Team and the Deaf Club, DeMario said he plays two or three games a week in the area.

He is not worried about teaching getting in the way of basketball. He told of a teammate he had from Chicago whose employer was very supportive of him.

Besides, DeMario doesn't have any plans to hang up his hightops any time soon.

"I'll play as long as my body keeps going," he said.

This is Ben DeMario's world.

Copyright © 2005 The Westerly Sun