HARWICH/CHATHAM ─ Monomoy senior boys basketball captain Chris Mazulis has a message for his haters: Look at me now. And they ought to, since they might learn a little about not just how to play hoops, but also how to overcome obstacles in order to achieve one's goals, something Mazulis knows just a bit about.
At the age of four, when it was noticed that Mazulis was having some learning difficulties and a number of ear infections, he was taken for testing and found to have significant hearing loss in both ears.
“Fifteen percent in the left and 10 percent in the right, which doesn't seem like a lot but it actually is,” said Mazulis, who likened his hearing as similar to someone being under water. “A lot of people expect to see it in older people. They don't expect to see it in a young kid.”
Mazulis said the hearing loss is likely hereditary since both his father and grandmother share the issue. In his case, his ear canals continually closed up, necessitating multiple surgeries to insert tubes. Though Mazulis no longer needs them, he's been wearing hearing aids since he was in kindergarten and describes his permanent hearing loss as conductive in one ear, sensorineural in the other. That means in the conductive ear, there is a problem with sound conduction, while in the other the issue stems from damage to nerve pathways between the inner ear and the brain.
When first diagnosed, Mazulis said his parents were cautioned that he would struggle severely in school, have delays, and likely be held back. Even then, however, Mazulis was determined to persevere and basketball proved a most helpful outlet.
“I was six months delayed in speech entering school due to my hearing issues,” he said. “Basketball became a way of releasing all my stress.”
Mazulis started playing in kindergarten through area youth programs, quickly developing an affinity for the game. His parents, Maryann and David, along with grandmother Vera and brother Michael, have supported him all the way.
“My parents always told me that no matter what, you can't give up,” he said. “When you get knocked down, pick yourself up and keep going. They've supported me in every decision I've made, which I'm very grateful for.”
Mazulis recalls being supported by coaches who used hand signals to call plays, ensuring that even if he couldn't hear the actual play call, he could read the hand signal and understand what to do on the court.
He's also become adept at lip reading, and in certain classes uses an FM amplification system that helps filter out background noise so Mazulis can better hear the teacher. He still wears hearing aids most of the time, though not during games since the tiny, costly devices would easily break if dislodged or collided with.
But there was a time when he did wear noticeable hearing aids on the court, which was accepted by his teammates, though not always by opponents. While teammates have treated Mazulis as they would any other player, he did face some negativity from an opposing team while playing as a freshman.
“When I was on the sidelines in-bounding the ball, when I was still wearing my hearing aids in games, they were saying something about 'let's slow the game down because he can't handle it,'” Mazulis said. “They were referring to my hearing aids.”
Rather than letting such commentary get to him, however, Mazulis has spent his hoops career turning such negatives into positives. In his seasons playing for both Monomoy and Nauset, he's amassed 670 total career points and his 2016-2017 season continues. Recently he had a game-high total of 20 points, and in Monomoy's Jan. 24 game against Nantucket launched an almost full-court shot that swished through the hoop just as the third-quarter buzzer sounded.
He's been both a Cape and Islands All-Star and a South Shore League All-Star, and was recently accepted to three of his top-choice colleges, Mount Ida, Unity, and Salve Regina, his likely pick.
Along with studying environmental science, Mazulis hopes to continue playing basketball in college. He credits youth hoops coach Heath “Noopy” Teixeira with fueling in him his immense love for the sport.
“He instilled a passion for it and it's stuck with me ever since,” Mazulis said. “No matter what mood I was in, I could always go down to a court with a ball and just practice to clear my head. It is my escape when things get challenging.”
Mazulis also relishes showing up his haters. It comes as no surprise that his favorite quote is “winners never quit and quitters never win.”
“You can always be better,” he said. “If someone says you're good, you can always be better. You just have to have confidence and believe in yourself even if nobody else does. You just have to go out there and try your best.”