OP MAKING HIS MARK FOR HIS COUNTRY
Mark Bilyj is a final year Parade College student of 2003 – and it’s fair to say the Australian representative basketballer has in recent years served as a trailblazer for the next generation of hearing-impaired athletes across the country.
Now 30, Mark ably captained the Deaf Basketball Australia men’s team (the Goannas) to a top ten finish at the 2015 World Deaf Basketball Championships last July and gold medal status at the Asia Pacific Deaf Games in November.
The gold medal finish booked the Goannas a ticket to the 2017 Deaflympic Games in Turkey, and Mark is justifiably proud of his team’s achievements.
To give a sense of Mark’s incredible journey, it’s worth drawing on the observations of the man himself in the following posting for State League basketball outfit Hawthorn Magic four years ago.
“I was born with a severe to profound hearing impairment (85 per cent loss) and was first fitted with hearing aids at the age of six months,” the then Magic guard wrote. “I have been playing basketball competitively since the age of eight but before that, I often played basketball with my brother. Early on, playing with hearing aids on sometimes made me the target of some dirty plays so I occasionally played without them.
“There has been a national deaf basketball team for many years now called the ‘Goannas’ but I only found out about the program in 2005 when one of my friends told me about it. I contacted Deaf Basketball Australia for information regarding the next try-outs which were held in late 2006. Following the try-outs, I was selected to play for Goannas at the 2007 World Deaf Basketball Championships in Guangzhou, China [and] our team only consisted of eight players.”
Recently, Mark agreed to participate in the following Q and A (which in part deals with his days as a student at the Bundoora campus) with the Old Paradians’ Association.
What is your overriding memory of the experience of the Asia Pacific Games?
Winning the gold medal for Australia and standing on the podium representing Australia.
How realistic is a top four finish at the Games in Turkey?
It will be tough, but achievable with a lot of training and practice games in the lead-up to Deaflympics in Samsun.
From where do most of the Australian players hail? What is the stipulation in terms of deafness? Do all players have to be totally deaf or partially hearing impaired?
We currently have three New South Wales players (one of whom relocated to Victoria), one Queenslander (who also relocated to Victoria) and seven Victorian players. We need to be 55 decibels or less in both ears and are not allowed to wear hearing aids during competition on court.
Can you describe your memories of Parade, of how you were able to communicate with the boys and which teachers really inspired you?
My memories of Parade are a mixture of challenging and fun times. It was an enjoyable time at Parade College. There was mostly oral communication, but some lacked patience to communicate with me.
Paul Shannon was an amazing teacher. He was extremely supportive and gave me a lot of guidance as I had previously been at Yarra Valley Grammar and was a new guy to Parade, even though I lived in the area and my brother (Jason Bilyj, 2000) was a Parade student too.
Away from basketball, can you talk a little about your life in terms of family and work?
I have a girlfriend. I work, go to gym and I like to run. I take the dog for walks, I enjoy bikeriding and catching up with mates. I have just become a godfather and a first-time uncle to my brother’s son.
For those in the community, particularly Parade, who may be able to assist the team’s cause, how could they help?
That’s a tricky one – we want the community to take a bit of interest in deaf sports in general and possibly make a donation or assist with sponsorship availabilities, as the athletes fund everything themselves.
Mark Bilyj is on Facebook, as is the Australian Goannas Deaf Basketball Team