|Steve Valencia-Biskupiak, on the far end, stands for the Star-Spangled Banner while his four children stand on the sideline as well.
Gallaudet athletics photo
By Ryan Scott
In the fall of 2003, most current college students had yet to enter kindergarten. But Steve Valencia-Biskupiak was a freshman on the Gallaudet Bison men’s basketball team. Now he’s a junior, he’s got four kids of his own, and he’s averaging 15 points and 5 rebounds per game for the school for the deaf and hard of hearing.
“I never thought I would be playing on a team where some of my teammates are kids I used to coach in summer camps,” says Valencia-Biskupiak, who also has extensive experience playing for Deaf Olympic and World Championship teams, where he’s racked up a bunch of silver medals for Team USA.
It has been a true sacrifice for the entire family having Valencia-Biskupiak finally finish the bachelor’s degree he started so long ago. His wife, Jessica, and their four children, Ziak, Zylo, Zeux, and Zalia have stayed behind in Riverside, California while their husband and father takes advantage of Gallaudet’s unique and valuable educational experience.
Live streaming and video chats make the distance a little easier, but life in Washington, D.C., is not without a family connection. Most of his brothers have played for Team USA, some for Gallaudet, and the Bison’s current leading scorer is Noah Valencia, Steve’s nephew, who helped ease the transition and acclimate a non-traditional player into the squad.
Of course, Valencia-Biskupiak wore the jersey long before any of his teammates. The 6-8 center played in all 26 games as a freshman, but had to leave the team – and school altogether – two games into what would’ve been his sophomore year with a serious medical issue. He came back to Gallaudet for nine games and one semester in 2006, but finances forced him to put the dream on hold.
All of this is possible because there is no clock in Division III athletics. A student-athlete has 10 semesters of full-time enrollment in which to complete four years of eligibility, but those semesters do not have to take place consecutively.
“Coming back to school to pursue my bachelor’s degree was the No. 1 priority,” says Valencia-Biskupiak. “But I also knew I had two years of eligibility left to play basketball that I just couldn’t pass up. I couldn’t resist the chance to play with my nephew; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team that contains an uncle and nephew playing together.”
The story is a remarkable one, given the many and varied challenges he’s faced over the year. It’s a story I became aware of during the preseason and filed away for future use. It’s the story I thought Dave McHugh was telling me recently, when he forwarded an email about a thirty-something player with four kids at a Division III school.
|Gallaudet athletics photo
It turns out, he’s not alone. Leading the Sage Gators in scoring and rebounds, Chris Kidd is another father and non-traditional student hooping it up with the young guns of Division III. He graduated high school in 2004, played one year at community college and then took a decade off.
“I just didn’t have my head on straight,” says Kidd, “I went down some paths that were the opposite of successful. It’s very easy to get lost in the world and fall by the wayside.”
Kidd grew up in Manhattan and later Poughkeepsie, New York, the oldest of 12 siblings, his path was full of ups and downs, but there was always basketball. “Basketball is who I am,” he says, “I never stopped playing. Over all those years you’d find me in every YMCA league. I always made my way to the gym. My wife would mad at me: I’d work an eight-hour day, come home and change, then go to the local rec center for another four hours.”
|Chris Kidd is in his second year at Sage. He took 10 years off before going back to school.
Sage athletics photo
|Steve Valencia-Biskupiak was a freshman in 2003, a sophomore in 2006 and is now a junior.
Gallaudet athletics photo
Kidd’s wife, Chrysti, gets the lion’s share of the credit for his life turnaround. They’ve been married 10 years and have four children: Josiah, Hezekiah, Christin, and Corinthia. “I rely a lot on my faith,” says Kidd. “And my wife; she changed everything. She’s sacrificing a lot for me to be in school. I could not do this without her.”
This all came about because of some terrible news. Chris was working at a call center and received a sizeable pay cut. What seemed like a setback became a catalyst for an improved future. He started looking for schools and, of course, basketball was always in the picture.
Kidd had never been a great student, so returning to the classroom after 10 years was difficult, but he’s taken advantage of every opportunity and worked hard. A year at community college led to a transfer to Sage, where he’s scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in sports management and an eye towards coaching.
“I want to start at the high school level,” says Kidd. “I faced a lot of adversity and hardship at that level; I’d like to get those guys when they’re young and just entering that maturity stage. I want to show them what’s possible with basketball and in the classroom.”
He’s also got a head start there, too. “I get home at the same time as my kids every day, so we all have study hall together.” Kidd’s kids aren’t all that much younger than his teammates; this year’s Sage squad is full of freshmen. “They take to me like an uncle or a big brother or a dad,” says Kidd, “It’s a great feeling to be looked up to. The guys are all very receptive; many of them come to me for advice. I feel appreciated and I’m humbled and grateful for that.”
As a thirty-something father myself, my biggest question to both Chris and Steve was about the physical demands of a college basketball schedule. Their peers, even in the NBA, are considered past their prime. How easy is it for a 34-year-old to play college basketball?
Valencia-Biskupiak noted, “When it comes to switching on screens, guarding those young, quick guards can be a challenge for me. I spend much more time in the ice bath than anyone else on the team.” Kidd added, “Unfortunately, in my younger days, I relied more on my talent than hard work. Getting back into game shape at this age was tough, but I’ve got plenty of gas left in the tank.”
Gallaudet appreciates the post work Valencia-Biskupiak brings to the game on both ends of the floor, and he is a big part of the team, but they don’t rely on him to carry the scoring load as Sage often does with Chris Kidd. I’m not sure how to check the NCAA records on this, but Kidd’s career performance in a huge victory over Utica this season is certainly one of the few, if not the only times a thirty year old scored thirty points in an NCAA game.
Both players reiterated a deep and obvious belief that it’s never too late to follow your dreams, whether it’s basketball or the education that will propel your family forward. Kidd would have had a difficult time getting back in the classroom without basketball and Division III has provided the perfect environment for him to succeed on and off the court. There’s a high level of competition, but also an atmosphere that allows players to miss practice for a parent-teacher conference, if necessary.
Gallaudet and Sage have both struggled this season, but both teams picked up wins this week and remain in the playoff hunt with the bulk of the conference schedule still to come. Regardless of the outcome, they’ve both got something relatively unique: true “senior” leadership and the kind of experience that represents the true Division III spirit.