KSD sports alumni celebrate bicentennial

Published 12:21 pm Thursday, August 24, 2023

The Kentucky School for the Deaf continued its 200th anniversary celebrations with two alumni sports games on July 29. The KSD Alumni Association event included a sports banquet, which hundreds of alumni attended.

Almost 300 people traveled to Danville for the event. Event Committee Chairperson Chris Miller said he was surprised by how many showed up.

“I was speechless honestly to see how many people showed up, the whole weekend was really busy,” Miller said.

Email newsletter signup

Miller is a KSD graduate who went to the school for 13 years from 1970 to 1983. He went on to have a successful career in sports as a full time referee for almost 30 years. Miller has been a NCAA Division 1 basketball referee, and works for ivy and patriot league. He lives in Maryland and drove down for the event.

On Friday, July 28, alumni gathered for registration and socialized for a few hours at a hotel conference room in Danville. Festivities commenced on Saturday with a football and basketball game.

Saturday morning started out with a pickup flag football game played by KSD alumni. A local DHS employee Clint Followell helped paint a flag football field at KSD. Miller said the game ended with a tie of 54-54, and everyone got really into the game.

“They were all just really into it, like it was a real football game, and that was just a really great memory to be able to see all of them be involved in that again,” Miller said.

KSD had a football program in the early 2000s, but it’s since been shut down, so Mullins said it was nice to bring back football for a day.

People then moved to the gym for a basketball game, which many players showed up for. Each team had 25 people who rotated in and out, and the score was 54-45.

Alumni of all ages played on each sports team. Mullins split the teams up into roughly equal skill and age distribution. He said the oldest people who played in either game were around 62 years old.

Among the talented alumni was David Hamilton, who has won five gold medals for basketball at Deaf Olympics. Hamilton refereed the basketball game, and was recognized at that night’s banquet.

Miller said all of the alumni were so excited to see each other again, many of which hadn’t seen each other for decades. He said the school was like their home, as students live there sometimes from elementary through high school.

“It was really good to see all of them, I hadn’t seen some of them in over 40 or 50 years,” Miller said. “We’re more like family, it’s like seeing your brothers and sisters you haven’t seen in a long time.”

On Saturday night they had a catered banquet with about 240 attendees. During the banquet, they recognized graduates who were successful in sports after KSD, including Miller, Hamilton, and several others who won gold medals at Deaf Olympics.

People also enjoyed seeing a slideshow of old sports photos from KSD. It shared facts on KSD sports history, like that the first baseball team was formed in 1902.

KSD used to have baseball, basketball, wrestling, track, baton twirling, and other sports in its heyday, but they’ve had to discontinue some programs due to declining enrollment. 200th Anniversary Committee Co-chair Barbie Harris said they had several alumni attend who had been there when some sports programs first started at KSD.

One alumni, Barbara Engle, is in her early 90s. She and her twin sister, who passed away a few weeks before the banquet, were on the first KSD softball team many years ago. Engle attended the banquet and saw a photo of her team in the slideshow.

Harris explained that the team didn’t have uniforms back then, they wore what they had while just starting out. Another alumni Clarence Watson, who’s in his mid-80s, was on the wrestling team early on and got to share memories at the banquet.

“We got to commemorate them and honor them as they got the sports programs started at KSD, and it was cool for the younger generations who were there at the banquet to see that and see them there,” Harris said.

Right now KSD offers boys and girls cross country, volleyball, basketball, and track and field. The school discontinued football, soccer, baseball, and other sports. Harris said she hopes the soccer program can get started again, as it was big in recent years. She also hopes they can bring back the swimming program, as KSD’s swimming pool recently reopened.

KSD has had declining enrollment in recent years, but Harris said it’s starting to pick back up. She said that an advisory board at the school is forming a five year plan to grow the sports program.

“I think it’s important we continue the sports program at that school,” Miller said. “I think with some work we can grow it back to what it was.”

Miller said he had the idea for the alumni sports event, as he wanted to see the school do something specific for sports during bicentennial celebrations. So he brought together a committee which put on the event. He wanted to thank the committee for doing so much work.

Committee members Jamar Higgins got the catering, with desserts from Burkes Bakery; Amy Lange handled the Facebook page and advertising; Byron Wilson is a KSD sports historian who shared facts for the slideshow; Sheryl Kassinger gathered photos and videos; Kerry Helton, Jr. put together the flag football and basketball schedule; and Barbie Harris and Rhonda Bodner, co-chairs of the KSD 200th Anniversary, handled other details at the school. The alumni association board also helped.

Miller said people are asking if they can do the event again next year, as everyone loved reconnecting after so many years. He said he’ll need at least a year off from organizing it, as it took a lot of work. But he hopes they can host it every other year, or hold something at DeaFestival.

DeaFestival happens every other year in different places around Kentucky, and the 2022 event was in Danville.

Harris said the school is increasing its alumni events to have something every other year. On odd numbered years, they plan to have alumni events, and on even numbered years the DeaFestival happens.