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Bison Legacy: Ronald and Brendan Stern

Bison Legacy: Ronald and Brendan Stern

The Gallaudet University Athletics Department debuts a new series titled “Bison Legacy” that will spotlight legacy families that have a lineage to Gallaudet athletics. We want to spotlight current Bison student-athletes and/or coaches and one of their family members that participated in Gallaudet athletics before them.

"There have been generations of families sending family members here to Gallaudet for college. For some of those families, sports play a role during their time at Gallaudet. We wanted to create a feature to help spotlight the proud connection many GU families have with athletics," said Gallaudet Athletic Director Michael Weinstock.

Our inaugural edition features Ronald and Brendan Stern. Ronald a proud graduate of Gallaudet University played men’s basketball at Kendall Green from 1969-73. He later served as Athletic Director at Gallaudet from 1989-90. Ronald has served as superintendent of the New Mexico School for the Deaf since 2000, and was previously director of instruction at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont for 10 years. He has a B.A. in sociology from Gallaudet, an M.A. in special education from California State University at Northridge. His son Brendan is the current Gallaudet women’s basketball head coach. Brendan played men’s basketball at Gallaudet from 2002-06 where he was a three-time team captain and graduated in May 2006. Brendan has been teaching American Politics at Gallaudet University for the past four years.

"We are excited to debut this new quarterly feature, Bison Legacy," said Gallaudet Sports Information Director Sam Atkinson. "This is a great opportunity to catch-up with former Bison greats as they reflect on their playing careers here and their joy of seeing their son or daughter playing/coaching for Gallaudet now."

We asked Ronald and Brendan to reflect on their time playing athletics at Gallaudet and the importance of family, tradition and sports. Below are their responses.

How would you describe your playing days at Gallaudet?
Ronald Stern playing basketball for the Bison Ronald: It was a thrill every time I put on my Gallaudet uniform. I know this is a cliché but this is the truth. Sports have always been a big part of my essence and being able to play college ball and for Gallaudet too represented the ultimate dream. To this day, I am extremely thankful I was able to achieve something that I had thought was somewhat beyond me, in part because of my mainstreamed background and limited participation experience in athletics. All in all, sports were a core, indispensable element of my Gallaudet experience and a significant reason why I loved it there.

Brendan: It'd have to be "a dream come true." I did not only have the thankful opportunity to be a part of one of the most successful teams in Gallaudet history but also to live out a childhood aspiration, which was, quite simply, to play on the hardwood for the Bison. 

Did you have added pressure because your father played sports at Gallaudet?
Depends on what you mean by "pressure." My father will be the first to admit that he has more fingers than career wins at Gallaudet but, yes, I was certainly motivated to represent not only my family but also the Gallaudet community. To borrow a famous phrase from Edmund Burke: "People will not look forward to posterity, who never look backward to their ancestors." I wasn't simply playing basketball on the collegiate level. Neither were my teammates. We were also playing for a community, linking the past with the present, adding extraordinary meaning to games.

Describe your feelings watching Brendan playing athletics at Gallaudet?
As is the case for many parents, watching your child play is special. The biggest drawback to living a long ways from D.C. while our children were at Gallaudet has easily been our general inability to watch them in action. How I wish I was able to have been in the stands observing and cheering Bren and his team on more often. That said, considering how Brendan’s playing career turned out, I’m proud of what he’s accomplished.

Brendan Stern served as an assistant coach to the men's basketball program last year. What was the most important thing your father ever taught you and why?
To always hustle, even when basketball is not being played. My father grew up in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan – he never lets me forget it - while I grew up in suburbia where manicured lawns and "take it easy" catcalls were commonplace. There are still times when I want to, and do, take it easy, but it's often followed by a guilt trip.

What is one of your proudest moments of Brendan at Gallaudet? Why?
Ronald: If I had to pick one, it would be what Bren and his team achieved during his senior year. As Gallaudet enjoyed its most successful basketball season ever, up to that point, and in the tough Capital Athletic Conference, Bren was a vital cog as the team's co-captain. I am proud that Bren took greater pleasure over his team's success than any of his individual accomplishments.

Why was it important for you to attend Gallaudet?
Brendan: Gallaudet was a place where I wouldn't be "the deaf guy," which was largely my nametag when I attended a hearing high school in Southern California. Instead, at Gallaudet, I was generally known as the slow Jewish point guard who ran an underground newspaper in his spare time. It is difficult for me to imagine a worthwhile collegiate experience without the freedom to decide the dominant identity of one’s own choosing, and this is why I attended Gallaudet.

What advice would you give to deaf athletes thinking about playing at Gallaudet?Brendan Stern playing men's basketball at GU. Brendan: Just do it. Gallaudet often seems like a scary place but I have yet to meet a student-athlete here, including deaf and hard of hearing students without experience with sign language or deaf people before enrolling, who has regretted attending Gallaudet. Come and visit, at least, to see what Gallaudet is all about, which is, in fact, not dissimilar from other universities in the D.C. metro area: an accessible and useful Liberal Arts education in the Nation's capital.

What makes the Gallaudet community so unique, especially when it comes to athletics - a large amount of families have sent generations here to learn and play athletics?
Using locker room jargon befitting the theme of the questions, there is no other university in the world that can wear Gallaudet's jock strap in granting the deaf student-athlete the opportunity to play college ball as a genuine, contributing member of his team and university. It thrills me to no end that Bren and his sisters have been able to take advantage of the special opportunities that Gallaudet offers its student-athletes.

Why is it important for families to encourage athletics?
The mind and body are incredibly interdependent of one another. Also, experiencing and overcoming adversity is indispensable in life. In athletics, such challenging experiences are varied and plentiful, and this has critical ramifications for one's whole person development.