Seated in the stands near the Loyola College bench at most home games in Baltimore is a group of deaf fans who have a special relationship with Greyhound point guard Tracy Bergan. During timeouts Bergan will come out of the team huddle and give a little inside info to the group he calls the Flying Hands. Thanks to him, the Flying Hands know, for instance, that an alley-oop play is about to happen. "Without making eye contact, he'll sign something so we're aware of what play he's going to run," says Bergan's brother, Stefan, himself a point guard at Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C.
Bergan is able to pass on this assist to the Flying Hands because he learned how to sign before he learned how to speak. He grew up as the only hearing person in his household: His parents, brother, four grandparents and two uncles are all deaf. His mother, Laura, sat him in front of the TV, and he learned his first words from Sesame Street and Romper Room.
Growing up in New Carrollton, Md., the brothers' basketball ability helped put an end to teasing from other kids who didn't understand why all the family members used their hands to communicate. But Tracy's ability to hear created other difficult moments. "I had a lot of responsibility, probably too much," he says. When the family was at a restaurant, the boy whose feet could barely touch the floor did all the ordering. When the electric company overcharged the Bergan account, the little boy with the high-pitched voice had to explain the mistake on the phone. When his parents were called in for parent-teacher conferences, they became parent-teacher-Tracy conferences. "I hated that," he says. "The teacher would chew me out and then I would have to sign to my parents what she said."
He learned the importance of taking care of others, but sometimes it was at his own expense. "My friends tell me I'm a good listener when they have problems,"(he says. "But when something is bothering me, I sometimes let it go until eventually it turns into a problem."
In his junior year at Loyola, the night before the Greyhounds were to play Iona in the first round of the 1992 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) tournament, Bergan learned that his girlfriend had left him for a friend of his. Bergan didn't sleep all night, and the next day Iona upset Loyola. "I blamed myself for the loss," he says. "Then I started to drown my sorrows." After spending more time in the campus bars than in class during the next two weeks, he quit school and returned home.
Because Bergan had already been placed on academic probation in his freshman year, many thought he would never return. But back in New Carrollton, Bergan went to work to save enough money for tuition—he lost his scholarship when he quit—and reenrolled at Loyola last January. "There were doubters," he says, "but I wanted to prove them wrong."
Now he talks about all that he has left to prove. Bergan was named to several preseason All-MAAC teams even though he didn't play last year. This season he should break the Loyola career assist record of 424. And he talks about regaining everyone's trust, especially the group of friends and family members who have rooted the hardest for him. "I have to make the deaf community proud of me again," he says. "I let them down too."
Loyola's point guard gives his deaf family and friends a sign that he's back in business.