It is one of those things you don’t think about, because you don’t realize it’s missing, like not seeing blind men at an art gallery or someone who is mute at choral tryouts. Since most feature-length films are experienced through sight and sound, the hearing-impaired are normally relegated to the home-theater experience where closed-captioning is just a remote click away.
That was what made the Georgia premier of the film “Spirit of Love,” so instantly unique and refreshing. At least half the audience at the Stonecrest Library in Lithonia, Ga., where the film premiered, was deaf or hearing impaired.
The movie is about the basketball camp run by former Atlanta Hawks star and current Fox Sports South basketball analyst Mike “Stinger” Glenn, who grew up around deaf kids in Cave Springs, Ga., where his father, George, coached basketball at the Georgia School for the Deaf. In the film, Mike is seen as a young man with the keys to the school gym but few hearing friends who will follow him there. So, he learned to play with the students his father coached, and in so doing he learned the quiet rhythms of a beautiful game.
They played great basketball at GSD in the 1970s, beating many bigger schools with players who could hear every whistle. There was a light over the backboards so the deaf players would know when the whistles blew or the horn sounded, and there were cheerleaders who fired up a crowd with the tonal shouts of people who feel sound rather than hear it.
For the kids on the visiting teams, it was like going to a foreign land.
Glenn was the bridge between those lands. He brought the deaf children to meet his hearing friends, and vice versa. And in 1980, he began the Mike Glenn All-Star Basketball Camp for the Hearing-Impaired, the nation’s first basketball camp for the deaf. Thirty-three years later, the camp is still going strong, and still free for all participants.
There are hearing kids at his camps now: many poor, some with no basketball knowledge or experience. But Mike takes them in and teaches them in the same spirit of love that he learned from his father.
That is what the movie is about.
Signing was the first language at the Georgia premier, with Mike and a sign-language interpreter communicating with the crowd, most of whom waved their hands in the air instead of applauding — another feature of deaf culture most hearing people never see.
The closed captioning never distracted from the story, nor did the fact that most of the characters signed throughout, even in scenes without any deaf actors. The deaf members of the audience laughed at the funny parts and signed to each other when conflicts in the storyline arose.
In the end, the message of the film was one Glenn has been teaching and living for all of his 57 years. If we pay attention, and approach one another in a spirit of love, our differences will bring us closer. And we will all be stronger and better because of it.