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March 1, 2005

Quiet Competition: The game is the same for deaf teams at basketball tournament

From: Greensboro News Record, NC - Mar 1, 2005

By Chris Wallace
Staff Writer News & Record

GREENSBORO -- Three hours before game time on Friday morning, Tyrone Lemay and his teammates on the Piedmont Association of the Deaf basketball team certainly looked ready for their first-round game when they took the floor for an early shoot around.

Decked out in his black jersey with matching black shoes and orange socks, wristband and headband, Lemay took a rare glimpse over as fans clapped and cheered for his team at the Barber Park Gym.

He heard none of it, however, and neither did any of his teammates, coaches or opponents. They are all hearing impaired individuals, but that didn't stop them from having a good time and playing hard-nosed basketball.

"We enjoy playing for competition and getting together with our new and old friends," said Sammy Dyer, president of the Piedmont Association of the Deaf, through interpreter Rebecca McMillion. "We like to be like a unit and just keep together."

It showed in the rugged, all-out play in an environment some called a family reunion.

On Friday and Saturday, the PAD hosted the 59th annual men's and 15th annual women's Southeast Athletic Association Regional Basketball Tournament at Barber Park Gym.

The tournament featured 13 deaf basketball teams from the Southeast region, including one from the Triad, the Piedmont Association of the Deaf Pirates.

For a while, it seemed as if the host team would get tossed aside.

Shortly after the first half ended with his team playing poorly and trailing 22-15, Pirates head coach Phillip Russ sat back and watched as player Sean Kelly ripped into his teammates, with a series of hand signals, for their lack of good play. And as Russ nodded in agreement, so did several other players.

Communication isn't always that easy. Some players admitted to having difficulties communicating with referees and other hearing people.

At one point during the first game, Dyer disagreed with a referee's call. He showed his disgust by throwing up his hands. His reaction nearly earned him a technical foul.

"Communicating with the coach is fine, but with the referees, I believe there are some barriers," Dyer said. "It's good for us though because sometimes we say some signs to them that they don't understand.

"When they say something to us, they might ask us what we said, and we'll say, 'Oh, we said something nice to you.' "

PAD assistant coach Eric Wilson said it was sometimes easy for the refs to understand what was being said.

"Some of the refs knew what the guys were saying because they read their lips," he said, laughing. "And of course there was some profanity. We're just like the hearing people."

Lemay and Dyer agreed communication between teammates and opponents is nearly flawless. Wilson said he believes there's a lot more emotion involved in their leagues.

When they play against hearing leagues, the players say there is a communication barrier -- but not as much as people might think.

"When you play with hearing people, sometimes they use made-up signs to communicate with us," Lemay said. "We end up understanding each other sometimes."

But communication doesn't always translate into performance.

PAD, which likes to get up and down the floor, looked like a fatigued and frustrated basketball team in the first round. The Pirates lost 54-33 to South Florida Recreation Association of the Deaf.

PAD rebounded for a second-round victory over Greater Fort Lauderdale 41-40 and then ousted Alabama 65-61 in the third round of the double-elimination tournament.

Last year, PAD's journey to the fourth round went in similar fashion: a first-round loss and second- and third-round wins before dropping its fourth-round game.

Wilson remembered all too well what happened.

"We had to play in the fourth-round game and everyone was wiped out," Wilson said. "We lost that game, had three or four key players that had cramps, and it was just awful."

This year, though, PAD wanted to make it a different outcome. And they did.

On Saturday, the Pirates defeated Eastside, a team from Wilson, 54-53 in overtime. That gave the local team a fifth-place finish.

The teams hope to have the opportunity to play in more hearing leagues, however, as tune-ups for other tournaments.

As for the competitiveness of the tournament, Lemay and others feel like they always play hard and talk a little junk here and there to make things interesting.

"Yeah, we talk trash out there. Sometimes, my opponent might say to me 'Hey, big baby. Come on, you big baby.' "

Dyer added: "All I can say is that it's a lot of it out there."

Contact Chris Wallace

at 373-7080 or

© News & Record 2005