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April 18, 2003

Playing loudly in a quiet world

From: Arizona Republic, AZ - Apr 18, 2003

Hearing loss doesn't slow star hitter

Mark Armijo
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 18, 2003 12:00 AM

There's a reason Eric Vincent sometimes is unresponsive to coaching instructions. He's nearly deaf.

Born with a severe hearing impairment, Vincent, a towering 6-foot-6 star middle blocker for the 12-4 Tucson Canyon del Oro boys' volleyball team, often has difficulty hearing CDO coach Patrick McDonald shout instructions from the sidelines. Sometimes he can't hear at all.

"I'm not legally deaf, but I'm legally hearing impaired," Vincent said. "I think right now I have about 60 percent hearing loss in my ears. I can hear deep voices and deep sounds pretty well, and I can read lips pretty good. But when there's a lot of background noise, I can't hear my coaches.

"I can't hear high pitched sounds, either. And 'th' and 'esses' are very hard to hear even from even deep voiced persons because of the pitch."

Vincent's hearing impairment, however, hasn't slowed his progress on the volleyball court. Late last week he verbally committed to California-Irvine, which is recognized as one of the top collegiate volleyball programs in the country, and Vincent is a major reason CDO is considered a top contender for the state volleyball title.

"In my mind, he's the best player in the state," McDonald said. "He's so incredibly talented, he can play at any position. That's why we moved him to outside hitter last week. Moving him outside makes our team just that much better, and he didn't resist it at all."

In fact, Vincent welcomed it.

"I didn't know the coaches were even thinking about it before they told us as a group after our game with Salpointe that I was moving, and even though I was nervous at first, I was excited, too. If anything, it will improve my hitting."

His parents didn't notice his hearing loss at first.

"When Eric was 2½, he told us he was having trouble hearing us," said Tom Vincent, Eric's father and a medical researcher with the Veterans Administration. "But we thought he meant he couldn't understand us, and with being in the medical research field and noticing that his speech was developing normally, we didn't think he had any hearing loss.

"But one time when he was 4, we noticed he wasn't responding to his mother (Kate Vance, a psychologist) when she was talking to him and that's what led to the hearing tests."

Eventually, Vincent began wearing a hearing aid. Later, when he began elementary school, he was switched to wearing headphones and a hearing box strapped to his chest, which was designed to amplify voices from his teachers, who were speaking into a microphone.

In the fifth grade, Vincent returned to a hearing aid, which he reluctantly wore until the beginning of his junior year at CDO.

"In the first grade, I just remember the look on everybody's faces, and it made me realize how different I was from everybody else," Vincent said. "I didn't like it because I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to be looked at as pretty normal."

Except for his hearing loss, he was like most other kids. He also was a good student, earning solid grades, and once was selected student of the month while enrolled in special education classes.

Eventually, Vincent moved out of the special education program and his parents allowed him to stop wearing a hearing aid if he kept his grades above average.

After high school graduation, Vincent plans to start wearing the hearing device again.

"When I got to stop wearing the hearing aid, I was pretty happy," Vincent said. "I didn't like wearing it because in high school you're going through a lot of insecurity and stuff. I felt very insecure wearing it.

"But I think it's time to accept myself as who I am because I think its kind of ridiculous that I would be so embarrassed over something like that."

There's nothing embarrassing about Vincent's volleyball prowess.

"He's got all of the tools to play at the next level," Brophy coach Tony Oldani said. "He's got unlimited potential."

Vincent hopes so.

"I was a sometimes starter on our (junior varsity) basketball team when one of the volleyball coaches asked me to consider playing," Vincent said. "It was really difficult at first because I didn't understand the game. But the more I played, the more I liked it.

"I felt like I really started to improve last year, but I never set my sights on getting this far. I just never expected it. It's turned out better than I ever thought it could."

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