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July 9, 2006

Deaf hockey player has his goals well in focus

From: The Gloucester County Times - Woodbury,NJ,USA - July 9, 2006

By Ashley Randazzo

FRANKLIN TWP. -- J.R. Bingham learned to ice skate at age 3.

Even before that, he hoped to learn how to play ice hockey. But J.R.'s not like every 10-year-old athlete who slides up and down the ice or runs up and down the grass while trying out various sports.

As a deaf child, missing out on vocal communication is frustrating for him as a hockey player, but J.R. still plays with all hearing-abled players on his Vineland Patriot "Squirt" B Team at the Vineland Ice Arena, what hockey director and Patriot coach John Larnerd said is the highest level available.

"I've worked with J.R. since he started here when he was 8," said Larnerd. "If he's out on the ice with people who don't understand that he's deaf, he has to learn the drill on his own by watching others.

"But now everyone focuses on him so that he understands and he picks up everything very quickly. He's a gifted hockey player. He works hard and his maturity level has increased ridiculously," Larnerd said.

J.R., a Franklinville resident and Chews Elementary School fourth-grader, recently returned from the Stan Mikita Hockey School for Hearing Impaired in Chicago for players ages 4-24.

His mom, Debby Bingham, wrote in an e-mail that it's much better at camp because everyone there can use sign language and communicate better, to make the game more fun. The camp is part of the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association.

She wrote that J.R. uses his instinct to compensate for hearing -- he just knows when the game stopped.

"Sometimes refs know that he's deaf and the ref makes the effort to get his attention or they tap on his shoulder," Mrs. Bingham wrote. "We, the deaf people, have a better sense of seeing and Jr is able to know or look out for other players, he observes."

Mrs. Bingham, his father, Joe, and sister, Kari, are all deaf. Kari and J.R. are the fourth generation of an all-deaf family.

For three consecutive years J.R. was able to attend the close-to-$2,000 camp with the assistance of People for People, which started in 2003, and other donors.

"We're a one-time only situation, we gave $200 the first year," said People for People's Bernadette Blackstock. "A donor can donate the money to us and then we cut it back out to the family."

"It's important for us to see that a family who is working really hard can be able to give something special to their child," she continued. "They take care of their family and sometimes you need a little extra help to be able to reward a child."

Mrs. Bingham wrote that the camp is very beneficial to her son. The coaches use sign language, usually, and if they do not, they have a full-time sign language interpreter on the ice so that they all can communicate effectively to the players.

J.R.'s long-term goal is to become involved with Deaf Olympics someday. J.R. also aims to attend college where he can play hockey.

The Binghams hope that J.R. will be able to attend hockey camp in Chicago next summer.

"We really appreciate those people who helped and donated money so that Jr was able to become a better hockey player," Mrs. Bingham wrote. "Without support and camp, I don't think Jr would be able to improve as much in his own league."

© 2006 Gloucester County Times