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October 22, 2002

Her hands are deaf player's ears

From: The Tennessean, TN
Oct. 22, 2002

Staff Writer

Quick glances toward the sideline reassure him as the gentle motions of her hands communicate to him through the confusion.

Play calls, coaches' instructions, snippets of sideline conversation — everything reaches John Cartwright through the movement of Tera Bass' hands.

But when she gets lost in the shadow of the sideline, a dark cloak created by the glaring white stadium lights, he is momentarily alone. He, too, becomes lost.

The shouts of fans, the blaring bands, every vibration is felt by Cartwright. But it only intensifies his unease as he strains to relocate that tiny redheaded woman amid the tight pack of Hillsboro football players.

''She is my ears,'' he signs. ''She tells me everything that happens.''

And then, fretfully searching, their eyes find each other once again and the football game — briefly interrupted by the anxiety of separation — resumes its chaotic order.

It has only been one year since the two met — Bass as an interpreter at Hillsboro and Cartwright as a student. But already the relationship has transcended the lines of ability and disability and developed into one of reliance, trust and assurance traversing between the classroom and the athletic arena.

''It is hard to put into words,'' Bass says. ''We have a very close relationship because we do spend so much time together. There are so many hours and so much hard work involved.''

The events that brought them here, communicating together on this football field, occurred at similar times in their lives, but more than 13 years apart.

Bass, now 28, was 3 years old when her parents found out that her younger sister was deaf. Shortly after, both girls were sent to the Iowa State School for the Deaf, where Bass learned sign language alongside her sister, enabling the two to communicate. Bass was the only hearing student at the school.

Around that same age it was determined that the meningitis Cartwright suffered from as a newborn had gradually caused him to lose his hearing. Only with the help of a hearing aid in a very quiet room would Cartwright be able to hear sounds again.

The two took steps in their new worlds. Bass developed her ability and became the ears for the hearing impaired. Cartwright developed the athletic skills, determination and dedication necessary to become a varsity football and basketball player as a sophomore.

Now their lives intertwine at Hillsboro. Bass came to Hillsboro three years ago to fill a position as one of six interpreters for the 20 deaf students at the school. With her she brought not only her ability to sign, but also the sports knowledge acquired through the activity of her three young sons. Both soon became a necessity.

Bass accompanies Cartwright to two of his classes and, at Cartwright's request, she also dedicates her time after school to athletics. She attends every football practice with Cartwright and travels to every game, and in the winter she will continue that schedule with basketball.

It is a relationship dictated by the strain of intellectual instruction and the exertion of physical toughness, but softened by the lightheartedness of humor and the security of familiarity.

''She tells me everything in class and out of class,'' Cartwright signs. ''She helps me in classes knowing what different things are, terminology and stuff. (In sports) it's the same thing. She interprets anything that the coach says, anything that the players say.''

Bass' presence also has been beneficial for the Hillsboro coaching staff, which is working to mold the young player into a solid addition for the squad. ''Tera does a great job of giving him all the information he needs,'' Hillsboro Coach Ron Aydelott said. ''He has asked questions and had it interpreted back to the coaching staff, and he's feeling his way. He's only a sophomore, but if he continues to work hard and learn the system, he has some athletic ability.''

If it were not for the devotion of Bass and a few other interpreters like her, Cartwright and many of the other hearing impaired students at Hillsboro would not be able to compete in high school sports.

''She's tremendous,'' said Lena Cartwright, John's mother. ''She's probably the main reason he can play sports. When she's not there he will participate, but you know he is not gathering all the information. For him, with her there, he has the ability to understand everything. He's come to depend on Tera.''

And that dependence goes beyond athletics. Together the two have a bond not shared between many other interpreters and students. They share private jokes and confidences and show genuine concern for the other's well-being.

''We always check on each other asking, 'Are you doing all right?' '' Bass said. ''There is no way you can't care or worry.''

Like any other close relationship, there are times when the two disagree. Then, they reluctantly retreat to other confidants, but the lines of communication remain open and resolution is never far — the bond that has formed between them is not easily broken.

''It is a relationship of trust,'' Lena Cartwright said. ''He trusts her to tell him everything. It opens up a lot of doors for him to cross the line of the hearing and make him feel like he's part of the hearing. With her help, he has the best of both worlds.''

And some would say that she does, too.

© Copyright 2002 The Tennessean