CHICAGO, IL—Last month, AHIHA celebrated its 46th annual Stan Mikita Hockey School in Chicago, Illinois. The school, as well as the National Sports Organization that runs it, AHIHA, was founded in 1973 when Irv Tiahnybik, a Chicago businessman, had a dream for his hard of hearing son, Lex—one in which Lex and other deaf and hard of hearing hockey players could receive top-tier coaching in an environment that is specifically tailored for deaf and hard of hearing athletes.
To launch the school, Irv enlisted the help of his friend, Hall of Famer and Chicago Blackhawk legend, Stan Mikita, and for 46 years the school has developed numerous Deaflympians, professional and collegiate players, coaches, and officials. Today, the organization and the school, which takes place the second week of each June, is run by former athlete and current Chicago Blackhawks skating coach Kevin Delaney, who became president following the sudden passing of former president, USA Hockey Hall of Famer Jeffrey Sauer in 2017. Today, Tony Granato, Head Coach of University of Wisconsin, who played under Coach Sauer, continues to coach at the school, along with several collegiate coaches.
This year, the highlight of the hockey school was the first AHIHA reunion. Along with Delaney, Deaflympian Mark Pryor (Lake Placid 1975), a former camper and a long-time coach at the school organized the reunion with Kanella Diakoumis, who has served as the athletic trainer for numerous years at the school as well as a number of Deaflympics.
The reunion featured forty-three alumni and former teammates from across the country, including several from the “Legacy Team,” comprised of players that attended the first camp in 1974, including Cindy Aponte, the first woman to attend the camp in 1983. Pryor, himself a member of the Legacy Team, commented, “It was great to reconnect with those first AHIHA teammates... It’s been a few days since we've said our "goodbyes" to our friends. As always, it seems to end so quickly.”
The showcase event of the reunion was the Alumni game, for which twenty-three members of the alumni signed up to play. Pryor organized a draft into the Blue Team, coached by Richard Dumas, and the White Team, coached by former Chicago Wolves (AHL) Head Coach Gene Ubriaco, then Delaney added himself, a few varsity players and some pros to create two evenly-matched teams.
I think some parents would wonder what their kids would be like when they become alumni. Judging by the alumni that came,... that looked like they were enjoying being at camp and seeing each other, the parents don’t need to wonder. Their children will be fine.-Elijah Gold, 8-time Deaflympian
Donning vintage AHIHA jerseys that reminded everyone of the old days, the two teams skated to a 3-3 draw, sending the game to a shootout. The shootout was close with the White beating the Blue 9 to 8 to give players on the White team have bragging rights till 2023, when the Second Alumni Draft will be hosted at AHIHA’s 50th Anniversary.
After the game, 8-time Deaflympian—the most by an American athlete—and former Northeastern University backstop Elijah Gold recounted, “It was great! I enjoyed playing with players from different years. I noticed some players wanted a little more ice time! It was great to be a part of the first official reunion!” Pryor added, “I can't tell you how happy everyone seems to be here at AHIHA. I've had nothing but positive reviews from ALL staff members. When I reported to Kevin that all went well. His only response was “50th!” To everyone in the AHIHA family, be sure to pass along your excitement to fellow AHIHA Alumni to gear up for our next reunion. As they say, the more, the merrier.”
Reflecting on the impact of the reunion, Gold said, “I think some parents would wonder what their kids would be like when they become alumni. Judging by the alumni that came, that offered rides to each other, that made sure Ken Newman, who has lost much of his eyesight—and who could skate without any assistance impressively—was safe, that looked like they were enjoying being at camp and seeing each other, the parents don’t need to wonder. Their children will be fine. Unlike us, they won’t have to wait forty-five years for a reunion.”
Pryor added, “To my alumni brothers and sisters, thank you for being here in Chicago. Either on the ice or in the stands, your joy was felt. We are a family. No matter how many miles apart, please stay in touch. Thank you to all who pitched in to help.”
For more information about the 50th Anniversary Reunion, please contact Mark Pryor, email@example.com
For more information about AHIHA, please visit ahiha.org.
Reunion photos have been posted on the AHIHA Alumni, AHIHA Reunion 2019, and the AHIHA Facebook pages. Share pictures with family and friends and on the AHIHA Facebook pages. Be sure to send a few to other alumni who were not able to join us this year or are not on Facebook.
Mark Pryor and Kanella Diakoumis contributed to this article.