Lange receives Distinguished Service Award from Mason-Dixon

Published 11:44 am Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Billy Lange has a nearly lifelong connection to the Mason-Dixon Schools for the Deaf Athletic Association boys basketball conferences, and now Mason-Dixon has honored him for his years of dedicated service.

At the age of four, Lange’s dad took him to the watch teams play in the Mason-Dixon conference.

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“I remember this huge crowd,” Lange said, through an interpreter, remembering the event. It made a big impact on the young boy. “I still carry that memory with me.”

Some years later, when he was in high school at Florida School for the Deaf, Lange was a player in the conference.

He met his wife for the first time through conference involvement. She was a cheerleader at the Kentucky School for the Deaf. Lange and his team played KSD in South Carolina, beating KSD by one point.

Lange became involved in the conference again later in his life, when he took the job of coaching the KSD boys basketball team, then the girls volleyball team and now the girls basketball team.

Lange has also worked as athletic director for the school, hosting some tournaments at KSD.

The Mason Dixon conference recently awarded Lange the Distinguished Service Award.

“I’m very happy to receive it,” Lange said.

Paul Smiley, the former athletic director at KSD and Lange’s former boss, said, “I can’t think of anybody more deserving than Billy Lange to be honored.”

“I’m proud of him,” Smiley said.

He said he remembers Lange from his days at Florida, as a high school athlete.

“Before I knew Billy, I knew of him … He was an outstanding athlete in football and basketball,” Smiley said.

Lange was a quarterback in high school and in college at Gallaudet University. He also played basketball at Gallaudet, but football was his favorite, until a knee injury in college forced him to stop.

“It was very hard to quit,” Lange said. He had to have knee replacement surgery. “After rehab and therapy, I tried to go back, but it wasn’t the same.”

“If it were not for my knee, I would have kept playing and possibly taken a different path.”

Instead, he took a path to coaching and found a new love. Lange became an assistant football coach at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf on Gallaudet’s campus.

“It kept me busy, and I realized I did like coaching,” he said. “I’m glad I ended up taking that path. I had such a passion for it.”

It’s part of what led him to the Kentucky School for the Deaf — he called it a “long story” and said it starts with a woman.

Lange first met Danville native Amy Gulley (now Lange) in high school through their involvement in Mason Dixon athletics. Both ended up at Gallaudet University. It was there they met again, got to know each other and fell in love.

Lange graduated, but Amy still had a year left. He was driving her home to Danville, but when they arrived, his car broke down.

“I found out it was going to take a week to fix it,” he said. So, he stuck around. Lange visited the campus of the Kentucky School for the Deaf, where he met then-Assistant Superintendent Hal Wright.

“We started talking; we were from the same fraternity. He asked me what I was doing,” Lange said. Wright told him about a job opening at the school as the recreation supervisor.

The recreation supervisor works with kids during after-school activities, Lange explained. Wright also told him about an opening as the boys basketball coach.

“I really chewed on that,” he said.

He completed the application process and about a month later, Lange got the call that both jobs were his if he wanted them.

“It took me a few days,” he said. Lange had always been used to larger cities and said he wasn’t concerned about how he would do in a town the size of Danville.

On the other hand, Lange knew he wanted to be a coach and said he never expected to get that opportunity so early in his career.

“I told myself I would try it a few years,” Lange said with a smile. Now, nearly 28 years later, he’s still here.

“I like it here. There’s no specific reason, but I am happy here,” Lange said. “There have been good and bad, ups and downs. I still really like the school.”

Lange married Amy in 1991 and they had two children, Brooke and Kyle. The two are grown now, having each graduated from Danville High School; Brooke has graduated from the University of Kentucky, while Kyle will be enrolling there in the fall.

True to family form, Lange said his children were good athletes — Brooke a “great” soccer player and Kyle a basketball player and “great pitcher.”

Lange proudly talked about his four siblings, too, who were athletes in their own rights. Two of his sisters played volleyball in the Deaflympics; one of his sisters was inducted into the hall of fame at Gallaudet.

His parents were athletes too, and his mom played basketball for the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. At that time, Lange said, there were three women on each end, playing defense and offense respectively, and two that travelled back and forth.

“Girls basketball has evolved over the years,” he said, smiling. “This is a great school. I’m proud to be a Colonel. It offers so many opportunities for students who are deaf and hard of hearing throughout Kentucky.”

During his time at the Kentucky School for the Deaf, Lange also taught middle school mathematics, which he said he really enjoyed. He has stayed in contact with students from that time, students who now have their own families and careers.

Since 2007, when Paul Smiley retired, Lange has been the athletics director at the school.

Lange credits Smiley as another big part of the reason he got to KSD.

“I learned a lot from him. Without him, I wouldn’t be able to be here,” he said.

Smiley said Lange has been not only great in his roles at the school, but he’s been a positive role model for the children.

“He not only taught the sports, he taught character, life values,” Smiley said.

Lange still tries to make sure he’s teaching the children more than just the sport. Typically, his teams travel out of the state to compete, giving Lange the opportunity to take the students to public spaces. When they go eat, he said, he makes every student order for themselves. That way, when the students are out of school and on their own, they will be able to walk into a restaurant and order without the aid of a hearing person.

“Those little experiences last a lifetime. They can apply that to their future lives,” Lange said. Students are learning “social skills, etiquette, and are interacting with hearing and deaf people. They are growing and developing.”

Follow Kendra Peek on Twitter @knpeek