The St. Mary’s School for the Deaf boys basketball team was on a mission.
After losing in the second round to Pennsylvania School for the Deaf by three points in last year’s Eastern Schools for the Deaf Athletic Association Division II tournament, a game athletics director Jim Carmody called the “de facto championship,” the Bisons were determined to bring back their first ESDAA boys hoops title since 2010.
“We hosted it last year, and we really thought we were going to win it,” said Carmody, who has been an assistant coach for 22 years and the AD the last seven. “If there had been another two minutes left, we feel like we would’ve won the game.”
The Bisons not only reversed their fortunes, but they did so in dominating fashion at this year’s championships held at Rhode Island School for the Deaf the weekend of Feb. 16-18.
St. Mary’s won all three of its games by a combined 84 points, with the lowest margin of victory being 16 in the title-clinching 43-27 win over Katzenbach School for the Deaf in New Jersey.
The team also swept the skills competitions, which includes team 21, foul shooting and layup contests.
“At the start of this year, that was our goal,” Carmody said, “to win it, and win it decisively.”
Sophomore Nick Barrus earned tournament MVP honors. He averaged 16 points, 5.9 steals and 5.1 assists per game this season.
“Barrus is from Dunkirk, and he could probably play there but nobody would be able to communicate with him,” Carmody said. “The beauty here is that all the coaches use sign language. It’s so key. That’s what gives them the best potential to be key members of a team.”
Junior Dalton Planty and sophomore Isa Habeeb joined Barrus as ESDAA first team all-stars.
“This is a huge event for deaf kids because they get to play amongst their own peers,” Carmody said. “The ESDAA is like the Super Bowl.”
It was the 52nd ESDAA championship in school history among soccer, volleyball, basketball and track dating to the 1950s. It’s quite the accomplishment considering the whole school (pre-k through 12th grade) has just over 100 students, and there are only about a dozen boys in the high school.
“We do well,” Carmody said. “I think for small schools, that’s a pretty big number among Division II. We have a rich athletic history in Western New York as well as nationally among schools for the deaf.”
Maryland School for the Deaf, a powerhouse among Division I schools, has about 300 kids. They even field junior varsity and varsity football teams.
Students have different degrees of deafness. Some rely only on sign, while others are still able to hear the refs blow the whistle to stop play. Other than that, basketball is still basketball.
“The biggest difference is if you come to our games, they’re silent for the most part,” Carmody said.
St. Mary’s graduate Kevin LeRoy, who now works at the school, is in his sixth year guiding the team.
Together, LeRoy and Carmody have been able to build a strong foundation based on being able to communicate with their players.
“Communication is key in basketball,” Carmody said. “At our level it’s even more important to communicate with each other. The kids are educated and have to be completely aware of picks and other stuff like that. The thing I tell them is just play as hard as you can all the time.”
The Bisons were the No. 1 seed coming into this year’s ESDAA tournament and finished the season with an 11-3 record. They will be the top seed again next year at the competition in West Virginia.