June 21, 2009 in Sports

Glenn keeps on giving

Basketball camp for deaf kids started 30 years ago
Charles Odum Associated Press

ATLANTA – Former NBA player Mike Glenn has been honoring his dad for 30 years with a basketball camp that speaks loudly to dozens of high school kids who can’t hear.

This Father’s Day, the NBA broadcaster who played 10 years in the league will open the 30th Mike Glenn Basketball Camp for the Hearing Impaired.

His father, Charles Glenn, worked at the Georgia School for the Deaf in Cave Spring, Ga., about 83 miles northwest of Atlanta, for almost 20 years.

Students at the school accepted the younger Glenn, who quickly learned sign language and was motivated to take up his father’s work.

Each year, Glenn welcomes about 75 to 100 hearing-impaired high school boys and girls from several states for a week of basketball and fun. This year’s anniversary has given him reason to reflect on three decades of campers.

“It is a real milestone,” Glenn said of the camp that begins today. “When I started it, it was not with the intention this was necessarily something I was going to be doing 29 years later. I did it just as an extension of what I had been brought up in, of sharing with people.”

Glenn said his specialty hasn’t changed through the years.

“We’ve removed barriers and jumped over hurdles,” he said. “This year we’ll have T-shirts which read: ‘We were deaf when deaf wasn’t cool.’ ”

And each year, Glenn remembers his father – who worked the camp with him for 20 years before his death in 2000.

“I would receive so many blessings from going around his school with the kids,” Glenn said. “I’m just continuing his heritage.”

While playing for the New York Knicks in 1980, Glenn volunteered to attend a tournament for hearing-impaired players. He said no one at the tournament knew he would be able to communicate directly with the players.

“I said, ‘Man I’d love to come,’ ” Glenn said, adding the invitation stirred memories of “some of the best days of my life” with his father’s students.

Glenn, 53, was an instant hit with the deaf players.

“I just started signing for myself. I didn’t need an interpreter,” he said, adding the participants initially assumed he must be deaf.

“A hush just fell over the audience,” he said. “They were saying ‘One of the Knicks is deaf! He’s signing!’ It was kind of funny. They just embraced me.”

Glenn, moved by the reception from the young players, started a summer camp that year.

“I think it was the nation’s first summer basketball camp for deaf kids,” he said. “There were about 35 boys that year.”

The camp followed Glenn, a native of Rome, Ga., to Atlanta when he played four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. He finished his career with Milwaukee but returned to Atlanta to spend 14 seasons as the Hawks’ broadcaster.

Glenn, who played at Southern Illinois University, said his father received no pay for his work coaching his students, so he has not asked for pay. Campers make a small donation, but Glenn said he has depended on the generosity of two churches and a recreation center in Decatur, Ga. The churches provide lodging and gyms for the campers.

He said he also depends on contributions of time and money from companies, athletes and other celebrities – which has been especially important during these tough economic times.

Glenn said defensive end Jamaal Anderson of the Atlanta Falcons made a financial contribution. Anderson’s father lost his hearing when he was 6.

“This is his 30th year,” Anderson said. “That shows he’s had pretty good success.”

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