Purdy readies for world championships
AMHERST, New York — Hockey comes in many forms. Given that the sport seemingly requires the ability to use your arms, legs, eyes, and ears, it would seem a long shot that a player with a disability can play it at a highly competitive level.
Do not tell that to Houghton’s Bayleigh Purdy. Purdy was recently named to the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association’s (AHIHA) 17-woman roster that will compete at the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships which started Wednesday in Amherst, New York.
In order to qualify for the team and the competition, athletes must have a hearing loss of 55 dB in their “better ear”.
Bayleigh, one of a set of twin girls, was born prematurely, weighing two pounds, and suffered from hearing loss from the time of her birth. However, that did not stop her and her sister from following in their older brother, Ryall’s, footsteps.
“My brother, Ryall, is a goalie, and it seemed we were always at the rink,” said Bayleigh. “My twin sister, Marleigh, plays hockey too, and she has as much fun as I do.”
Having a twin sister made things easier on the 16-year-old as she tried to learn the game while competing in the CCJHA.
“It made it easier playing on the boys’ teams,” said Bayleigh of playing alongside Marleigh. “We had very few girls playing hockey. I ran into many challenges.”
Growing up, Bayleigh leaned on her twin sister to help her understand what coaches wanted from her.
“Marleigh and I were always on the same CCJHA team,” said Bayleigh. “She was my extra pair of ears. I usually would watch my coach talking, and gesturing, and if I missed something, or they turned their back while talking, I would ask my sister what was said.”
Bayleigh first wore hearing aids at the age of four. While they helped her hear the world around her, they created a set of issues when dealing with sports.
“There were many years I did not want to tell my coach or other players I did not hear well because I did not want to be treated differently,” said Bayleigh. “My hearing aids pick up so much background noise in the rink that it’s hard to identify specific sounds. I would usually hear the really loud whistles from coaches and refs, but often missed out what my teammates were saying during games.”
Missing those conversations and suggestions led to frustration for the youngster. It did not help that hearing aids require batteries, which often fail at the most inopportune moments.
“I came home mad sometimes and felt frustrated, but [I] got over it, and it never stopped me,” said Bayleigh. “One of my biggest pains of wearing hearing aids is my batteries wear out fast and need to be replaced during some real inconvenient times.”
That last problem is one Bayleigh will not have to worry about during the World Championships. No athlete will be allowed to wearing hearing devices in an attempt to even the playing field. While this fixes one issue, for Bayleigh, who has spent much of her life using such devices to her advantage, it creates another.
“I have been trying to learn sign language so I can communicate with my teammates that have more trouble hearing than I do,” said Bayleigh. “They will use strobe lights in the corners to indicate a whistle.”
At 16, Bayleigh is one of the youngest members of Team USA in the tournament, and the only one from Michigan. She is learning a lot from her fellow Team USA teammates, which includes players from ages 13-27 and from 10 different states.
“Being younger pushes me to work harder on the ice to keep up with the older players and I like that,” said Bayleigh. “It makes the game very competitive. I have played all winter with the Keweenaw Storm U19 team and I am used to working hard for a spot with more experienced players.
“It is really cool to be with the older players on this USA Deaf team because I am learning how they manage hockey, college, and life in general while having to deal with hearing loss.”
When not playing hockey, Bayleigh enjoys being a typical teenage girl at Houghton High School and spending time with her family, including her father and mother, Tim and Lora, as well as her brother and sister.
Team USA will face their closest rival, Canada, twice during the tournament, on April 22 and 23.
Team USA coach Jackie MacMillan is excited about facing Canada.
“I know these young women take great pride in the opportunity to participate during the World Deaf Ice Hockey Championships in April and we are looking forward to our series against Team Canada,” said MacMillan in a press release. “I hope that both of our programs will ignite the growth of Women’s Deaf Hockey across the world and I look forward to taking part in this exciting event.”
The AHIHA is a nonprofit corporation serving deaf and hard of hearing athletes. Founded in 1973 by former Chicago Blackhawk and NHL Hall of Famer Stan Mikita and Chicago area businessman Irv Tiahnybik, the AHIHA has been a leading sports organization in this field.
Tony Granato, head coach of Wisconsin’s men’s hockey team, took over in 2009 and continues to work to grow the organization.