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December 20, 2002


From: San Diego Union Tribune, CA - 20 Dec 2002

By Whitelaw Reid

December 20, 2002

VISTA – Kevin Ortiz says one of the few times he's been frustrated by his hearing impairment was during his first few weeks as a freshman at Vista High.

Ortiz had signed up for a normal class schedule but says he was enrolled in special ed classes by the school instead.

"It was just a mix-up," said Ed Ortiz, Kevin's father, "because most (hearing-impaired) kids can't read above the fifth-grade level."

Ortiz, who was born with no hearing in his left ear and severely limited hearing in his right ear, says he was a little angered at the time.

"I wanted to challenge myself," Ortiz said, "and prove to others that I'm not going to let my disability take away from my learning. I wanted to prove to others that I wasn't just going to give up."

Ortiz approaches everything with that same attitude.

In the classroom, the senior has a 4.33 grade-point average and is ranked 14th out of 797 in his class.

On the soccer field, he is the starting left midfielder on the Vista varsity team.

"He's definitely one of the best scholar-athletes we've ever had," said Vista coach Jim Hall.

Ortiz, who started playing soccer when he was about 5, says his mother, Anna, and father have been his biggest inspirations.

He says he remembers his mother reading to him and helping with his vocabulary and speech when he was just a young boy.

Ortiz learned sign language when he was little before he started using a hearing aid.

"They didn't know if I'd be able to speak at all," said Ortiz, 18. "I started out at a deaf school and then transferred to a hearing school in first grade. I did really well in school. It really inspired me to do well."

Ortiz was faced with another challenge on the soccer field last season when he had to play in games without his hearing aid. Perspiration would cause the device to short out.

"I couldn't hear my teammates yelling at me, telling me someone was behind me," said Ortiz, whose older brother, David, was captain of the Vista soccer team as a senior in 2000-01.

"The biggest challenge was I couldn't tell what coach was saying. I had to use my eyes a lot more than everybody else. I was constantly looking at everything instead of hearing."

This year Ortiz has a device with a cover on it that prevents perspiration from getting in. He says last season's experience helped him improve as a player because he sees the field better.

"I know exactly where everyone is and exactly what's going on," Ortiz said. "It's a lot easier for me."

Hall says communicating with Ortiz is still tough at times.

"If he's close, his dad told us the best way to get his attention is if we clap really loud," Hall said, "but if he's in the middle of the field or farther down from the bench, it's hard so we have to use other players to get a hold of him."

Ortiz says his teammates have been extremely supportive.

"They're great," Ortiz said. "If there's ever anything that I mis-heard, they let me know and keep me up to date."

Ortiz says his condition does offer one plus.

"The best thing about having a hearing aid is that I can't hear the other team trash talking," said Ortiz, laughing.

Mikey Minicilli, the Panthers' goalie, says Ortiz is the perfect teammate.

"Everything he does is for the team," Minicilli said. "It doesn't matter if it benefits himself or not, as long as it's for the good of the team, Kevin will do it."

Minicilli said it's been inspiring to watch Ortiz on the soccer field and in the classroom.

"I'm in a lot of his classes and it's just amazing someone can do that," Minicilli said. "He's so high academically and then on the field he's also playing a high level of soccer."

Hall feels Ortiz has the potential to play soccer in college next year.

"He's definitely very skillful," Hall said. "He's good with the ball, has a good first touch and is an accurate passer."

Ortiz, who hasn't decided where he will attend college next year, is considering Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf located in Washington, D.C. He would also have the chance to play soccer there.

"He surprised everybody at Gallaudet," said Ed Ortiz. "They were astounded that he went through all of high school without any interpreters or note takers. They offered him a scholarship the first day they met him."

In his spare time, Ortiz works with two community service groups, and every Saturday he goes to a club in San Marcos for hearing impaired children and adults.

"I try to be an example to deaf and hard-of-hearing kids," Ortiz said. "I try to make myself a role model and show them to pursue everything you can and try as hard as you can. Hopefully I can inspire kids throughout the world and teach them don't give up and keep going."

© Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.