LONDONDERRY — It was a cliche every coach has used 1,000 times. Dennis Bishop, however, couldn’t help but make a slight correction.
“The (University of New Hampshire) coaches were telling us that everyone, ‘Had two eyes, two feet, two hands and two ears,’” Bishop remembered from a football camp in the summer. “I raised my hand and said, ‘Actually coach, I don’t have two ears.’
“The coach looked at me and said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ Then everyone started laughing.”
That’s Bishop in a nutshell. Always quick with a joke, and never afraid to make light of a situation that would leave others terribly embarrassed or uncomfortable.
Bishop, a sophomore at Londonderry High, was born without a left ear.
But the charismatic, fun-loving running back — who has led his team in rushing twice this season — isn’t about to let a slight difference make him hide in the corner.
“Dennis has never let it really hurt him,” said his step father, Ken Minasian, who has been with Bishop since his adoption. “He has had a lot of operations on his ear and has no hearing out of it, and that has been hard. People used to mention it in the grocery store, but I have never really seen him despondent over it. He is good-hearted, hard-working kid.”
Few would guess from Bishop’s lighthearted personality the struggles of his youth.
Born in the Worcester area, at 3-years-old he was adopted from foster care by Melodee, who at the time was dating Ken, and the three soon moved to Londonderry.
“I’m not really sure why they (his birth parents) gave me up,” said Bishop. “I remember one day going to Chuck E. Cheese to meet my adopted mom. I met my parents for the first time that day. We moved to Nashua first, then to Londonderry where my uncle was building houses.
“My parents are tough, but they are great people. They want me to do well, and they expect the best from me.”
Making life more difficult for Bishop was his birth defect, which left him without the majority of his left ear due to Hemifacial Microsomia, according to Ken.
“He’s gone through about 6 or 7 surgeries to get the ear he has now,” said Ken. “The whole inside of his ear is gone. He has also had some jaw problems.”
Inevitably, once Bishop entered school, his ear quickly became a topic of curiosity with students. But while many would attempt to hide, Bishop was very open.
“In the beginning people would ask about it all the time,” he said. “I would always be retelling the story over and over. People didn’t really pick on me about it, but there were questions all the time. It just annoyed me because everyone was asking me over and over and I got tired of retelling the story.”
So Bishop dealt with any awkward situation the way that is most natural to him, with humor.
“I make a lot of jokes about my ear,” said Bishop. “People think it’s funny when I make jokes, and we can all laugh together. I like making people laugh. I have my moments when I am (pretty funny).”
Just the mention of Bishop’s wit quickly brought a smile to the face of his coach.
“Dennis is just a character,” said Lancers football coach Jon Rich. “He is a piece of work. He is a great player with a great personality. It takes a certain kind of person to have a sense of humor like he does. And he is that kind of guy.
“I had Dennis in class last year and he is the class clown type. But when it’s time to get down to business he knows how to do that too. He has been dealing with (missing an ear) his whole life, so I think that makes it easier to crack a joke.”
Now in his second high school year, and a starter for the Londonderry football team, Bishop receives curious inquires far less often, but questions still arise from time to time.
“Some people still ask,” he said. “Incoming freshmen mostly. They look at me and say, ‘What happened to your ear?’ I either tell them the story or tell them to ask someone else, because mostly everyone knows. It’s not as hard this year.”
And when someone does have a sarcastic remark, intentionally or not, Bishop deals with it in the way that’s become his style. He makes people laugh.
“He is so quick with a joke and an explanation,” said Rich. “He is a confident kid who has learned to cope with what he has, and he is a very special guy.”
On the field
In his first varsity season, Bishop has also had a few shining moments for the Lancers. Heading into tonight’s matchup at Concord, Bishop has rushed for 341 yards and five touchdowns on 70 carries.
“Dennis is a heck of a player,” said Rich. “He worked so hard in the offseason and has continued to work hard to get better. He got the season off to a good start, and hopefully he continues that.”
In Game 2 of the season, Bishop he had a game for the ages, rushing for a whopping 182 yards on 21 carries (8.7 yards a carry) and four touchdowns in a 38-7 win over Alvirne.
“That was a pretty good game for me,” Bishop said with a smile. “I was OK last year, and this is my first season on varsity, so I wasn’t really expecting that. It was really exciting. Hopefully I can keep getting better and so will the team.”
1. Andover 4-0
2. Central Catholic 3-1
3. Pinkerton 4-1
4. Haverhill 3-1
5. Pentucket 3-1
Honorable mention: Greater Lawrence (3-1), North Reading (3-1), Whittier (3-1)
In his words
For a video interview with Londonderry’s Dennis Bishop, visit eagletribune.com/sports or rallynorth.net.
David Willis is a sportswriter/videographer for The Eagle-Tribune. You can see his video profiles at eagletribunetribune.com/sports