It looks like an ordinary basketball tournament, with the players, the cheerleaders – even a giant bracket taped to the wall.
But for the players, cheerleaders and other participants who converged on Kentucky School for the Deaf (KSD) recently for the Mason-Dixon boys basketball championship, this is no ordinary tournament.
It is the biggest event on the basketball schedule for the participating teams. Perhaps of equal importance, however, it is one of the best chances these students will have each year to fully immerse themselves in Deaf culture.
Teams from nine schools for the deaf across the South were on the KSD campus in Danville Jan. 23-25 to compete for the 68th annual boys basketball championship of the Mason-Dixon Schools for the Deaf Athletic Association.
The 13 games that were played to crown a champion made up only part of a schedule that included a free-throw and 3-point shooting competition, a cheerleading competition and nightly social activities.
“It’s not just a basketball game, it’s a cultural event,” KSD Principal Toyah Robey said. “These events, these are some of the only times that our kids all get to be together in one location.”
KSD Coach Mike Yance said he has some 25 years’ worth of fond memories from the Mason-Dixon Tournament, having experienced it as a player at Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind and as a coach at North Carolina School for the Deaf before coming to KSD, where he is in his 13th season as the Colonels’ coach.
“I really just fell in love with that experience, being able to play in the tournament, getting to meet other deaf friends, and now our kids get that opportunity,” Yance said through an interpreter. “Going from a player to a coach, it’s always good to see the kids have that same opportunity that I had. It’s good for them to make friends and to be able to socialize with other kids.”
The Mason-Dixon boys and girls tournaments are played at different schools each year. Robey said it’s an honor for KSD to host the tournament, though it requires months of planning and long hours of work by staff members and volunteers during the four days the visiting teams are on campus.
“We’re very excited and honored to host it. Our staff’s been working really hard to make sure everything is ready,” she said. “It’s a big event, I’m so proud of our staff, everybody’s really come together (with attention to) detail, and our focus is hospitality.”
Alabama School for the Deaf won the tournament, defeating Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in overtime in the championship game.
KSD will host the girls tournament again in 2023 as part of its celebration of the school’s 200th anniversary.
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