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April 22, 2003

Parsons's daughter reason to root for 'Kings

On Sports

By Geoff Calkins
April 22, 2003

A week from Wednesday, Maggy Parsons is going to have a miraculous day.

Maggy doesn't know this because, well, she's just 12 months old.

She doesn't understand hospitals. She doesn't understand anesthesia. She doesn't understand that on that day, she's going to undergo an operation that may let her hear the sound of her mother's whisper, of her father's laugh.

Maggy is deaf. A week from Wednesday, God and science willing, that should begin to change.

"It's called a cochlear implant," says Kristen Parsons, Maggy's mom. "The doctors go into her skull and implant a magnet. Then they go into her ear, and implant electrodes.

"She won't be able to hear like you and I, but she'll be able to carry on a conversation. She won't need to use sign language. She'll hear things."

The notion of this thrills Kristen, makes her happy beyond words. And the whole thing would make her even happier if it weren't for one small detail.

Kristen's husband, Don, is the best player on the RiverKings.

One week from Wednesday, the RiverKings are scheduled to play Game 6 of their championship series against the Austin Ice Bats.

In Austin.

Which explains why Kristen has a very definite rooting interest in the series.

"I'm praying we win," she says, "in five games."

How many times have you heard the complaint that it's impossible to relate to professional athletes these days?

They're aren't like the rest of us, you know? They make too much. They care too little. They occupy another world.

Which is why it's refreshing to meet Don and Kristen Parsons, who not only occupy our world, they elevate it, too.

Yes, it's true, he's just a River King. He doesn't play for the most glamorous sporting outfit in town.

The RiverKings aren't major league like the Grizzlies.

They don't play in a gorgeous downtown stadium like the Redbirds.

On the other hand, they do win more than anyone else.

The RiverKings won the championship last year. Or, as the T-shirts say, "Been there, done that."

The team took a big step toward doing it again by whipping Austin, 6-1, Monday night for a 2-1 series lead.

High above the ice, in suite 9, Kristen bounced Maggy on her knee and did the hopeful math. Two down, two to go.

"I'm praying that's how it works," she says. "But what can I do?"

It's the cheerful lament of someone who understands the odd bounce of the hockey puck.

Kristen never planned on being a hockey wife. Truth is, when she met Don eight years ago, she did her best to resist his charms.

He was a forward on the Johnstown (Pa.) Chiefs. She was a college student working part-time in the team store. She didn't even like hockey. She didn't even like him.

"He started asking me out in October," she says. "I said, 'No, no, no.'

"In February, I finally said 'Yes.' He said, 'Can you come and get me?'

"Turns our he didn't have a car."

Kristen picked him up. Talk about your wild ride.

"We've lived in Louisiana and Las Vegas," she says. "Wait, are you counting roller hockey?"


"Then Louisiana, Long Island and Las Vegas. And New Jersey. And Flint. And now here."

Wherever they go, the Parsons seem to add children and titles in equal measure.

After winning a title in Flint three years ago, they had Abby.

After winning a title in Memphis last year, they had Maggy.

Oh, and Kristen is pregnant again. And the team is in the finals again. Talk about consecutive playoff births.

It would have been a crazy time for the Parsons under the best of circumstances.

But this?

"Put it this way," says Kristen. "Maggy and I know LeBonheur very well."

There was never any hint of trouble during the pregnancy. The delivery was fine and quick. When Maggy failed the initial round of hearing tests, the doctors said she probably had too much fluid in her ears.

Three months later, they concluded she was profoundly deaf.

"When we left the doctor's office, we cried," Don said. "But then we pretty quickly said, you know, it could be worse than this. She doesn't have cancer. She's a happy kid."

Now the Parsons can't imagine life without a child exactly like Maggy. They consider themselves unequivocably blessed.

Kristen marvels at Maggy's constant good humor.

Don savors every day he's not on the road. Because Kristen teaches sixth grade, he takes Maggy those days. Two days a week, he drives her to classes at the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf.

"She usually falls asleep on the way there, but she wakes up pretty quick," he says. "She loves it there."

Parsons is standing next to his locker as he says this. He has had his typically marvelous game, with two goals and two assists.

So what's he going to do if the series does go six?

"I'm not even going to talk about it," he says. "I don't want to mess anything up."

He will talk about his daughter's smile, though. He'll talk about how she inspires him. He'll talk about how, every morning, the first thing he thinks about is the operation that may make her well.

He still love the games, mind you. He still loves the cheers.

But this time, he's so filled with hope, he can hardly hear a thing.

Contact columnist Geoff Calkins at 529-2364; E-mail:

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