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St. Francis deSales tip-off - Annual tourney is a local brand of ‘March Madness’

The term “March Madness” usually refers to the NCAA basketball tournament in late March and early April, but a group of Brooklyn middle school basketball players are looking forward to another hoops tourney at the end of the month. That is when the ninth annual St. Francis deSales School for the Deaf basketball tournament takes place, an action-packed weekend at the East Flatbush school featuring sixteen boys and girls teams from Brooklyn and other parts of the city. “From September on, that’s all the kids talk about,” said Nora Zerbo, a Physical Education teacher at deSales who has run the tournament since it began in 2000. All members of the faculty also donate their time to help out at the tournament as well. “The excitement builds all year. And when the tournament comes, graduates come to watch them,” said Zerbo. The tournament has all the trappings of any big-time sporting event. The gym is routinely packed with fans noshing on concessions while watching the hoops and cheerleader routines during time outs and between games. But Zerbo said the best thing about the tournament is that it breaks down barriers between deaf children and their hearing counterparts. “Our kids sometimes think that other kids aren’t going to accept them. And from the other standpoint, the hearing kids can get nervous that they’re playing with deaf kids,” she said. “But this is a good chance to get everybody together. The crowd is even mixed between deaf and hearing parents. It’s not even competitive; the emphasis is on having fun.” Of these 16 teams, only three of them are from deaf schools: St. Francis deSales, Lexington in Queens and Manhattan’s Junior High School 47. Sadly, Zerbo said that the deaf schools find themselves at a disadvantage when it comes to athletics because “there aren’t that many deaf [athletic] programs around. Unless these kids can get a friend to go with them, they’ll be the only deaf person there.” “Very few of these kids belong to outside recreational programs or little league. Really the only time they get to play is here in school,” she added. Another disadvantage for deaf basketball teams in particular is that their coach cannot communicate with them on the court. “It’s tough to get their attention. Hearing teams can make adjustments on the court, but we have to wait for time outs,” Zerbo said. It also takes deaf children longer to react when the referee blows the whistle. To remedy this, Zerbo said she hopes to install a sound-activated electrical system that would flash a light on the backboard every time the referee blows the whistle. But win or lose, “the important thing is that they get a sense of accomplishment,” said Zerbo. “Just knowing they can be competitive, just having our cheerleaders cheer, it’s just a really nice thing.” The 9th annual St. Francis deSales School for the Deaf Basketball Tournament begins Friday, February 29. It runs all day on Saturday, March 1 and Sunday, March 2. The school is located at 260 Eastern Parkway. Admission is $1. To order tickets or for more information, contact Nora Zerbo at 718-636-4573, x154.

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