Mike Glenn’s Lifelong Impact on the Hearing Impaired Community

May 20, 2015

This is the third in a four-part series of ‘Hearing Health Month’ feature stories highlighting hearing health as it relates to former professional basketball players. Celebrated during the month of May, EarQ is the presenting partner for the NBRPA’s Hearing Health Month. For more information, please visit the EarQ website.

Can you give some background on how you wanted to help deaf and hard-of-hearing people play basketball?

It started at an early age for me. My dad started a basketball program in Georgia for deaf children in the 1950s. The program included boys and girls about 6-7 years old. My dad had a deep love and compassion for two things: basketball and deaf culture. I was born into that line of thinking.

My dad ran the program for over 20 years. The only payment he ever received was a handshake and a thank you. That’s when I realized his passion for helping others. It was all about loving, sharing, and giving. You can’t always see the results and impact of those traits. But their importance really grew on me.

How did the Mike Glenn Basketball Camp for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing get created?

Beginning in high school, I knew that I wanted to create a basketball camp for deaf players. Some of my best friends growing up were deaf. I loved the basketball camp that I was able to attend during high school and I wanted to duplicate that for those deaf friends of mine.

I ended up getting an interview with the New York Knicks while I was playing there regarding a deaf basketball camp. During that interview, I spoke with Kevin Kennedy who was the PR Director of the Knicks. He had suggested that I reach out to Mill Neck School for the Deaf in Mill Neck, New York. I traveled to the school and met with the school’s basketball coach and their Athletic Director. I pitched them my idea. I’ll never forget their response: “Start the camp here!” And that’s how the camp started in 1980.

Can you take us through a typical day at your camp?

Sure. It’s a normal basketball camp, but also a sleepover – it’s the aspect that the kids probably love the most. Sunday night we have a really nice opening dinner for everyone. Teams are also picked that evening and the campers get their colorful shirts.

On Monday morning, we officially start the camp and have 3 different sessions a day. The first session is all based on drills with fundamentals: dribbling, shooting, passing, and rebounding. In the afternoon, we play 3-on-3 as well.

One of the best aspects of the camp are the volunteers and guest speakers that come help the event. We’ve had current basketball players, former basketball players including NBRPA members, and even players from other sports. The amount of support that we get really is amazing.

Guys like Mike Gminski, Mitch Kupchak, Tiny Archibald, David Justice, Roddy White, Andrew Young, and Martin Luther King III have all come to be guest speakers at the camp. The list is so long. Every single one of them always says how much of a connection they feel with the kids. They almost get more out of it than the kids do.

What do you see as the big picture implications of the camp? What can an outsider learn from this camp?

To me, it’s the power of sharing, the idea of inclusion, and the realization that all opportunities for deaf kids are realistic. I’ve been around deaf and hard-of-hearing people my entire life. You have to realize that I was around when people said “we were deaf when deaf wasn’t cool.” So the camp is about empowering others and helping them understand that anything is possible. It can actually enhance your life – and I’m talking about both the campers and those that volunteer.

The people that come volunteer for the camp are so dedicated. I don’t pay my volunteers anything to come to the camp. Usually, I can’t even pay for their travel. But these people wouldn’t miss it for the world. I have some that use their only vacation from work to attend and volunteer at the camp. I’ve been blessed to have smiling individuals that bring positive feelings to the camp every year.

Do you hope to expand the camp in the coming years?

It will definitely be a challenge to do that. What’s crazy is that we used to do TWO camps per year – one in New York City and another one in Atlanta. Today, we just do the camp in Atlanta. Keeping the not-for-profit status is important. Fundraising for shirts, meals, space, equipment and other items are always our biggest areas where we need to raise more money. It’s a tall task currently.

How can other people help the camp?

We always need fundraising help. More information about my endeavors with helping deaf and hard-of-hearing people can be found on my website (http://www.mikeglenn.com/bio.htm) for those needing more information. I also have a movie out called “The Spirit of Love” that highlights my journey, specifically in the space of health and hearing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAiLG0mBwAo).

Even if fundraising is not realistic for someone, just spreading the word on the camp being available to all who have a hearing deficiency would be fantastic. We were fortunate enough to keep the camp in operation during the recession. I think the knowledge and support and word-of-mouth from others made that possible.

Do you have a favorite memory from your camp?

There was a boy named Willie Brown. He came to my camp as a skinny little deaf kid from Macon, Georgia. All I remember is that he soaked up every single aspect of our camp. He won MVP of our camp. I knew sign language, of course, and I always made sure to communicate to him that I thought he could play basketball at a very high level. Willie became a major college basketball player, first playing at Hofstra and then Georgia St.

He also bounced around in the CBA, but also had tryouts with the Denver Nuggets and the Atlanta Hawks. I remember jumping up and down and waving my hands in excitement when he would dunk. The impact he had on the deaf basketball community was enormous.

Another story that comes to mind and happens often is the impact EarQ had. They gave a hearing aid to one of my little girl campers. Not only does that hearing aid enhance her life – it made her day.