At Horner Park on Thursday evenings from 6:30 PM to 9:30 PM Jose Roman, who's Hispanic, and Antonio Clark, who's African American, practice vigorously with a Chicago Park District basketball team called The Rebels. One thing that's astonishing is the skill and speed of these players as they pass with fluidity, deathly steal the ball from the offensive team, and tear through defense as they swish a stunning two point shot. What might not be so apparent is the disability that they’re playing with. These players swish the ball through the net, expertly weave through the opposing team, and sprint to land the winning shot all without hearing the Ref’s whistle, or the crowd cheering them on. They are Deaf, and not letting their disability be a factor in playing a sport that they both adore, thanks to The Chicago Park Districts’ Special Recreation Program.
The mission of the Chicago Park District special recreation program is to provide a diverse range of recreational opportunities for children and adults with disabilities. These include the following programs and services: Adaptive Sports; Paralympic Sports; Special Olympics; recreation and leisure programs for deaf/hard of hearing and/or blind/visually impaired individuals, ranging from introductory levels to competitive sports. There are two locations with year-round programs for deaf/hard of hearing individuals. There are 16 locations that work with individuals with intellectual disabilities. One location offers programs with a primary focus to work with youth at risk. All special recreation field staff and inclusion aides are trained in behavior management and adaptive sport skills. Participant assessments are completed when requested to assure an individual with a disability will be successful in any program the Chicago Park District offers.
The Chicago Park District special recreation program has developed a partnership with schools and agencies that work with individuals with disabilities, focusing on the expansion of services for physical and sensory disabilities, with a goal to create a Chicago Park District Paralympic Team.
The special recreation program means a lot to Roman and Clark, who both believe that this program is a great way to bring the Deaf Community together for some refreshing socialization and a chance to have some fun competition with the added bonus of representing The Chicago Park District in basketball tournaments such as Nationals and Forum Pennsylvania.
“I'm really proud about going to the Nationals and representing the Chicago Park District as well as meeting other Deaf players. It's inclusive for me and I really like the community that I'm a part of.” Roman said in an interview. “I'm proud to show that I've come from Chicago.”
Both boys grew up in the hearing world, attending mainstream school until their high school years where they attended the Illinois School for the Deaf in Jacksonville.
“I wanted to be in the deaf world, and experience deaf culture. There's a large communication gap with the hearing and the deaf, and I wanted to fully integrate into my own Deaf culture.” Clark said. “This program is great! I also want to show other kids who might be heading down the wrong path that I'm a good guy and a positive role model, as a black man with a positive attitude. I like showing leadership. If there's something wrong then I like to be there for them.”
The communication gap between the hearing and the deaf is vast, as evidenced by how some hearing people view American Sign Language. To some hearing people, it's just flying hands waving about with no meaning.
“You don't see a lot of deaf people in the world, out doing things. They're not included. It's like we’re in a different place and on a different world altogether. All they see is our hands flying. I think that's because we’re very expressive and if a hearing person sees those expressive gestures they think ‘oh, what's this? This is just hands flying all over the place.’” Roman said. “Here, with this team, I don't have to worry about anyone looking down on me because of my deafness. Everyone is a wonderful family here.”
Even though both boys are of a minority, the disability is noticed more than their ethnicity.
“Latinos and Mexicans immigrate, and they escape, and they try to find jobs. It's hard. They try to succeed in life. I see that and I try to encourage this program, the park district program because it's a good place because there's a lot of networking opportunities here as well as a great way to socialize and not get involved with a gang or drugs or hanging out with bad people on the streets. For me, as a Latino man, I can help them by being a positive role model and saying that this is a better way of living. Try to build programs to make your wishes.” Roman said.
Clark also feels that this program brings the Deaf community together in a very positive way. And, it's a good way to have some fun after a hard day working in food service at Amtrack Company. Roman recruited Clark to join the team. Since then, they've been happily shooting hoops ever since, even on tournaments.
When the players are playing in a tournament, the referee will wave a white flag to signal a fowl. Sometimes the referee’s will use Sign Language but both boys feel that the white towel is most effective.
Both boys are ecstatic to be amongst their own. They both have hearing friends who communicate via the Videophone (VP) and the IP Relay service, a service on the internet where the Deaf can call any number in the United States, but even with all this technology, there's one thing missing.
“Sometimes the connection is not there, the relationship. You can’t hear their voices or see their faces, and you’re not sure if they’re being straight with you or not.” Roman said.
“I admit, sometimes I find it extremely hard to communicate with hearing people, and so would rather stay among my own. This is why I like playing here, with this team.” Clark added.
There is no question that these players are amazing as is the program. The Chicago Park District’s Deaf basketball program not only brings the Deaf world together to socialize and to foster healthy relationships with the deaf and the hearing world, but it's a shining beacon of opportunity and spirit. For the two players who have finally found a home at last, their experiences have both taught them something that they proudly share with others.
“I just have one thing to say.” Roman said. “No matter what bad happens to you, don’t give up. Keep going, keep trying, and good things will happen to you. Because I've played in a deaf community, the hearing coach was criticizing me for seven years 'til I found the park district program. Good things have happened to me the last couple years going to nationals. So no matter if anything bad happens to you, just keep going, good things will happen to you,” always.”
TTY: (312) 747-2001
541 N. Fairbanks
Chicago, IL 60611
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Photos: Luz Turner the deaf photographer