Scores are only half the game at W.Pa. School for Deaf basketball tourney
It wasn't just game time this week inside the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf's gymnasium in Edgewood.
It was tournament time.
Student-athletes, coaches and family members from three states and Washington, D.C., traveled to Western Pennsylvania for the 14th annual Tri-State Middle School Basketball Tournament.
The tournament marked the culmination of WPSD's season, a season that consisted of playing various private schools. But the games Wednesday and Thursday were different.
WPSD players usually walk into gymnasiums and are the only ones with a hearing impairment, who communicate with their coach and each other using sign language. During the Tri-State tournament, however, they were surrounded by individuals in, and familiar with, the vibrant, tight-knit deaf community.
In a setting ripe for a raucous atmosphere, the gymnasium was nearly quiet; fingers moved at top speed, sharing direction and feelings between players and from coach to player. Only the bouncing basketballs, squeaking sneakers and occasional outbursts from ecstatic players who had scored pierced the silence.
And once a whistle blew signifying a game's end, the teams that had battled so hard for two halves came together in the stands and mingled, laughed and cheered on their peers.
“The kids, they come and they don't only play for their schools, but they develop friendships many times and make lifelong friendships”, WPSD CEO Steven Farmer said through a signer. “They may be opponents on the court, but they're best friends off the court.”
Fans filled the gymnasium Thursday for the boys and girls championship games. Dances were performed to cheer on the teams, and a giant drum's vibrations echoed from the bottom of the stands, reflecting the electric atmosphere.
The WPSD Lions boys finished as runners-up, and the WPSD girls placed third.
“The best part of the weekend is that we worked really hard, we worked as a team, and we did our best,” the Lions' Braden Elliott, 13, of Butler said through a signer after the championship game.
Lions coach Tony Dumblosky said through a signer that he and his team look forward to the event because, “It doesn't happen often, so when it does it's special. ... Plus we love that we hosted it here this year.”
Goodbyes were said, and friends parted, the two-day tournament over. However, those involved said the relationships will not end, just placed on hold until next year when the tournament moves to Marie Philip School for the Deaf in Massachusetts.
Nate Smallwood is a Tribune-Review staff writer.