Ryan Brown

Teaching Life Skills on the Basketball Court

Growing up with hearing loss—classified as “profound” in his left ear and “severe” in his right—Ryan Brown understandably struggled.

There was the challenge of learning to effectively communicate, but also of spending long stretches away from home at a school for the deaf, bearing the brunt of bullies, and being told over and over again that he would never be able to do the things he wanted to do (like play sports).

But he learned to adapt and embrace challenges—and he wants local kids to do so, too. An athlete, coach, and full-time transportation industry analyst, Brown founded the nonprofit Go Hard or Stay Home (GHOSH), a low-cost kids’ basketball program now in its fourth year and with hundreds of participants.

“This program helps kids learn, practice, develop, and improve their basketball skills,” Brown says. “And, more important, offers mentorship, motivation, and encouragement toward school and life.” 

Working hard, constantly adjusting

Brown didn’t speak his first word until he was 5. Although he grew up in Worcester, he attended the Clarke School for Hearing and Speech in Northampton, staying at the school throughout the week and spending weekends and holidays at home with his family.

He pushed through his disability, eventually being accepted at Holy Name High School, where he played the trifecta of basketball, baseball, and football. Notably, he was a 1,000-point basketball scorer who helped lead Holy Name to consecutive Division I state finals.

“I’ve always had to work harder at things and make adjustments that would work for me with my hearing,” he says. “But I’ve been doing that my whole life, so adding new things I wanted to do was just another day for me.”

How he communicates with others depends on the environment, he explains. For instance, when he was young, he and his coaches and fellow players worked out signals on the courts and in the field based on whether he could use his hearing aid (in the case of football, because of the helmet, he couldn’t). More recently, during the pandemic, with mandatory mask orders preventing him from reading lips, he developed gestures and other means of communication.

“My family always supported me and had me involved with activities and told me all you have to do is try,” he says. “If you want something, you work hard for it.”

My family always supported me and had me involved with activities and told me all you have to do is try. If you want something, you work hard for it.

Brown studied industrial engineering and played basketball and baseball at WPI. It was a stressful time, he concedes, but his college years helped him learn to juggle responsibilities, balance his time, and control stressful situations. He found co-op opportunities that led him to his current position with the U.S. Department of Transportation. It was also at WPI that he discovered his passion for helping and inspiring others: While on the WPI basketball team, he became involved in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

“It showed me how giving even just a small amount of my time helped the kids,” he says. “It was something that stuck with me. I wanted to do more.”

Never judging, always giving back

Soon, he did: While coaching Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball after graduation, he noticed that many kids who wanted to play simply couldn’t afford to pay the high fees. This prompted him to start GHOSH (pronounced “gosh”) with just a handful of kids at St. Bernard’s Church gym in Worcester. The program has grown exponentially, with 2,000 participants to date.

“Each week more kids showed up,” says Brown, who notes that a $5 per session donation is requested of those who can afford to pay. “They just wanted to learn how to play, improve their skills, and have a safe place to go.”

The program teaches boys and girls of all ages and skill levels basketball basics—and, Brown hopes, confidence, determination, and the understanding that it’s OK to struggle. As he puts it, he likes to get to know players personally to understand where they’re coming from and where they want to go.

“It’s teaching these kids the importance of school, why we should never judge, and why we should always help and give back to those who are struggling or are in need of help,” he says.

It’s teaching these kids the importance of school, why we should never judge, and why we should always help and give back to those who are struggling or are in need of help.

To that point, GHOSH has also donated to dozens of area families during the holidays, organized events such as backpack and school supply drives, and helped the Worcester Police Department hand out candy to kids on Halloween. “It’s teaching kids to be kind, respectful, believe in themselves and support others—most important, the community,” Brown says. He drives home the mantra “Don’t let a disability or disadvantage stop you from what you want to do with your life.”

Naturally, his goal is to expand GHOSH beyond Worcester, as funds, space, and time allow.

“I do what I can now, rotating to find affordable gyms throughout the year to hold sessions,” Brown says. “Yes, it is a lot of work—but it’s worth it.”

Reader Comments


  1. C
    Christine Lucier

    Ryan, I am so proud to call you my family. Your spirit and dedication to your program are inspiring to so many. I truly hope the program continues to grow and succeed, you truly help so many kids. I am hopeful that you will get funding needed to move this program forward. I am confident that the community will help wherever they can. Love, one of your biggest supporters, Auntie Christine .

  2. J
    John Doherty

    You are an inspiration to all of what it is to give from your heart and that nothing is impossible. You are a wonderful man!

  3. r

    ryan i am so proud of you! you are an amazing cousin and a very inspirational person! i look up to you and i love you so much!

  4. T
    Tj Grochowski

    Keep up the good work Ryan. You have had the utmost confidence in my child from day one. Wish I could say that about others. Proud to call you a friend, community supporter, and coach.

  5. C
    Chris Laythe

    Ryan, as your friend I am proud to be able to help you when I can and be able to see everything you do for not just the kids but the community as well. Keep it up and I personally want to help to expand in the future. Great job my friend.

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