Cheektowaga natives help St. Mary’s Deaf win girls hoops title
by KEVIN FREIHEIT
It took a tremendous amount of support, preparation and determination, but the St. Mary’s School for the Deaf Girls’ Basketball team recently captured its second consecutive championship by defeating the Rochester School for the Deaf, 38-29, in the Eastern Schools for the Deaf Athletic Association (ESDAA) finals in Rochester Feb. 20.
The Lady Bisons came out on top over a field of seven teams, and were led by 2010 National Deaf Interscholastic Athletic Association (NDIAA) Player of the Year, junior Crystle Marion. Marion has amassed 2,128 career points to date, and was named to one of the league’s First Team All-Stars.
Cheektowaga residents Sarah Flowers (junior) and Emily Murphy (sophomore) were part of the winning team. It was Flowers’ second time winning the championship, and the point guard, who led her team with 80 assists, was also named a First Team All-Star.
“It felt great,” Flowers said in an interview conducted by e-mail. “It was nice to have the feeling of winning the ESDAA tournament again.”
Murphy, who participated in her first season with the team, said she was thrilled to be a part of it.
“It was really amazing and very exciting,” Murphy said via e-mail.
St. Mary’s School for the Deaf has a belief in total communication. Although the players on the team are deaf, functionally deaf or hard-of-hearing, they rely on the use of sign language, non-verbal cues and speech in order to excel on and off the court.
During games, the team uses opportunities between plays, as well as any stoppage in play, in order to communicate or signal to players a specific plan or idea.
The team competes against area “hearing” high schools and is a member of the Independent Athletic Conference league (IAC), on top of belonging to the ESDAA.
Head coaches Bryan Booke and Sarah Pici said the team knows that preparation is key, which is why they rely heavily on off-court communication.
“By preparing our athletes in advance, they are able to depend on their knowledge of the game and what they have learned, and not feel as though they are playing at a disadvantage against a hearing team,” Booke said.
The Lady Bisons used games earlier in the season to prepare for the championship.
“We played against challenging teams this season (CCA, Park, New Life, and Maritime),” Flowers said. “Playing against those teams helped us prepare for the tournament.”
In addition to all of the preparation and practice, the team benefited from strong relationships with one another. Most of the players on the team have spent a large amount of time living with each other.
“Many of our players have lived with each other since elementary school,” said Booke. “Our players know each other better than they know themselves in some cases. That helps with anticipating what their teammate is going to do or where their teammate is going to be on the court.”
In last season’s tournament victory, the Bisons defeated West Virginia School for the Deaf, 58-43, in the Championship game. The tournament had more meaning to Flowers, who said that she was motivated by watching her older brother win the tournament when she was younger.
“When I was younger, I watched (my brother) win three ESDAA tournaments for soccer and basketball,” Flowers said. “I looked up to him. I wanted to be like him and win the ESDAA tournament.”
Flowers achieved her goal by winning the tournament in 2010, but said that this year’s victory was even better because her brother got to witness it in person.
“Last year when my team won the ESDAA in West Virginia, he couldn’t come,” Flowers said. “This year, he was able to come. I wanted him to see me and my team succeed.”
Flowers and her team did just that, going undefeated against deaf teams and winning the tournament. In the past two seasons, the Lady Bisons have posted a 7-1 record against deaf teams.
“We have a number of good players that work together,” Murphy said.
While almost any team has ups and downs during a season, the Lady Bisons use a team effort to maintain focus and strive for the ultimate goal.
“Sometimes we have problems pop up and we just stay focused and strong together,” Flowers said.
The team’s success comes from the coaches, players and the St. Mary’s athletics program. The athletics program at St. Mary’s allows for any student to partici- pate in sports, regardless of athletic ability.
“We do not have ‘tryouts’ or ‘cuts,’ and our program has always promoted and encouraged maximum participation regardless of ability,” Burke said. “St. Mary’s athletic program sets very high expectations for its student athletes, which includes a strong emphasis on character development.”